Police Reform Laws
August 6, 2021
To the Battle Ground Community:
You may have heard about or are aware of changes to law that the Washington State Legislature has made in regards to policing. Many of these new laws went into effect on July 25 of this year and will impact the way we respond on-scene to calls for service. It is important to me that you are fully aware of the changes and the impact it may have on you and within our community.
In 2021, the Washington State Legislature passed several police reform bills that change the way police interact with non-compliant persons. It is important to recognize that some of the new laws, specifically those within House Bill 1310 (Permissible Uses of Force) and House Bill 1054 (Police Tactics and Equipment), continue to be interpreted by legal advisors throughout the state. The Battle Ground Police Department is updating its policies in an endeavor to meet the standards of the law. Our officers are well informed, have received related training, and we are actively working with regional and state partners to fully comply with the intent of the law.
Laws passed under House Bill 1310 significantly change a police officer’s ability to use physical force when responding to calls for service.
Permissible Use of Force
Prior to the new law, officers were allowed to use the standard of Reasonable Suspicion to detain potential suspects (with or without force as needed) in the immediate area of a reported crime while an initial investigation was conducted. The new law now requires police officers to establish a much higher standard – Probable Cause – in order to detain a potential suspect with the use of physical force. Unless there is imminent threat of bodily injury, a potential suspect can only be detained with the use of physical force when there is probable cause for a crime. The likely result is that suspects will simply walk or drive away, leaving the area. Our officers will continue their investigation, and, if Probable Cause is established, will attempt to locate the suspect and initiate criminal charges. To further illustrate, here is an example of a typical call for service in our community:
A citizen calls 9-1-1 to report suspicious activity in the middle of the night – she has witnessed a person shining a flashlight in several cars parked along the street. Officers arrive to find a person shining a flashlight into cars as the caller described. While Reasonable Suspicion has been established, Probable Cause cannot be established without further investigation. Officers are prohibited by law from using physical force to detain the potential suspect to gather more information. If the potential suspect chooses to leave the scene, officers cannot use physical force to detain him/her.
Despite the challenges this new law creates, our Battle Ground Police Officers will continue to respond to calls for service, conduct investigations, and initiate criminal charges as appropriate. It is important that you continue to report in-progress suspicious or criminal activity, or if you are a victim of crime. Please continue to share information with us; it is one of the most powerful tools in preventing crime in our community.
Reasonable Care Provision
House Bill 1310’s Reasonable Care provision requires law enforcement officers to utilize available de-escalation tactics prior to using any physical force, including when the use of physical force would otherwise be authorized under the new law. The de-escalation tactics officers are required to consider include creating physical distance, calling for additional backup, calling for additional community resources, taking as much time as necessary before proceeding with further action, and leaving the area if there is no imminent threat of harm and no crime has yet been committed.
While Battle Ground police have always been trained to take appropriate de-escalation measures before engaging in use of force, the specific requirements of this new law unfortunately restrict police officer’s ability to provide many of our community caretaking functions, limiting the level of assistance we are able to provide those who are requesting help from law enforcement. These restrictions are anticipated to be particularly visible when law enforcement is called to assist with welfare checks, medical calls, and calls to assist gravely disabled individuals including those struggling with mental health issues.
Families will often call 9-1-1 seeking help when a loved one suffers from mental health or behavioral crisis, but refuses to get help. Historically, this caretaking function has been provided by police officers. With the new law in place, and absent imminent threat of bodily injury or Probable Cause of a crime, police officers are prohibited from using physical force of any kind to get the person in crisis into involuntary treatment. Instead, the new law requires officers to consider that their presence itself may increase the likelihood that use of force may become necessary, which then requires them to leave the scene without providing further assistance.
We want families and community members to know that we will respond to calls, but in some situations, our officers may be required by law to leave without providing the requested assistance.
The other immediate and significant impact to our community is the near-elimination of police vehicle pursuits. House Bill 1054 created significant restrictions on the ability of law enforcement to engage in vehicle pursuits and includes a prohibition of all vehicle pursuits except when the officer has established Probable Cause to believe a person in the vehicle has committed a specific violent offense, sex offense, or is driving under the influence.
The higher standard of Probable Cause is almost impossible to establish at the early stages of a vehicle pursuit. In the rare case it is, the law requires that the person being pursued pose an imminent threat to safety of others and that there is supervisory control over the pursuit. These requirements are extremely challenging to meet in these critical moments and it is likely that some violent persons will simply flee to avoid capture. By law, our officers are not allowed to pursue them.
Our Commitment to You and the Battle Ground Community
Battle Ground Police Officers have a strong desire to serve our community while also complying with the laws of our city, state, and nation. We will do everything we can to provide the highest level of service allowed by law.
It is important to me that you are aware of these new laws, and equally important that you know we will continue to respond to your calls, even though our on-scene actions may differ as we comply with these new laws and challenges. We will continue to keep you informed of any significant changes affecting police services.
I am incredibly proud of our officers and we are honored to serve the Battle Ground community. Thank you for your continued support and partnership.
Chief of Police