In the 2021 legislative session currently underway, there is a concentrated and emotional effort to change police tactics and limit the equipment law enforcement officers can use to deescalate dangerous situations and protect the public.
It is our belief, based on science, experience and common sense, that – as well-meaning as these efforts may be – the end result would be catastrophic for our communities in terms of lives lost, injuries to both police and the public, and the oversell sense of “safety” that so many of our families and communities crave.
House Bill 1054 is a comprehensive attempt at altering law enforcement training methods, tactics and equipment. It comes on the heels of voter-approved Initiative 940 from just two years ago; hardly enough time to see the effects of the newly mandated training.
House Bill 1054 severely limits the use of certain restraint methods that officers are trained in to deescalate violent criminals.
Left with no other options, deadly force becomes a higher probability – something supporters of the bill fail to realize or admit.
It limits the use of highly trained and highly regulated K9 units. These dogs have saved lives – police and criminal – and to severely limit their use is a step backward in keeping our communities safe.
It prohibits the use of tear gas against barricaded criminals. Gassing subjects is not a decision that’s made lightly and is usually reserved for unique situations, again to protect lives.
It prohibits the use of armored vehicles, even when those same vehicles have saved lives and allowed for positive outcomes, again, for the police and the subject.
It prohibits no-knock warrants, even in highly charged situations like child trafficking and kidnapping.
And finally, it contains convoluted, unrealistic expectations and directives for police pursuits.
We agree that law enforcement needs to continue to work hard to garner the trust of all our communities.
We are open to discussions on how police training, tactics and equipment can be used to protect our cities and towns and, at the same time, get our officers home safely at the end of their shift.
But House Bill 1054 will not do that. This overreaching legislation will undo 50 years’ worth of police reform and take us back to a time when officers had limited options outside of deadly force. It takes us back to a time when officers had their “voice, stick or gun” to solve problems. Why should we go backward? Why undo decades worth of experiential knowledge, training and reform?
We should be giving our officers more training, tools and specific direction on how they can interact safely within the communities they serve. Sadly, we need to ensure that political agendas are not taking precedent over public safety.
Our police are held to a higher standard, and rightfully so. But let’s make sure they’re not held to an impossible one.
We ask you to contact your state elected officials and urge them to vote “no” on House Bill 1054.
Until the majority of our communities stand up and say, “Enough is enough,” this war on police will continue, good men and women will leave the force, and our communities and families will pine for the days when they felt safe and protected by the men and women in blue.
Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, serves on the House Public Safety Committee and is the assistant ranking member on the House Civil Rights and Judiciary Committee. Tim Schwering is the Spokane Police Guild vice president.