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Inslee signs bipartisan use-of-force bill into law

March 17, 2022 Updated Thu., March 17, 2022 at 7:53 p.m.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill improving access to abortions in Washington into law Thursday at the Washington State Legislative Building in Olympia. Inslee also signed a bill changing the definition of use of force into law on Thursday.  (By Albert James / The Spokesman-Review)
Gov. Jay Inslee signs a bill improving access to abortions in Washington into law Thursday at the Washington State Legislative Building in Olympia. Inslee also signed a bill changing the definition of use of force into law on Thursday. (By Albert James / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Changes to police reform legislation passed last year are now in effect, including one that redefines “use of force.”

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday signed a bill that allows law enforcement the ability to use physical force to stop a person from actively fleeing a scene. It was a change law enforcement requested after they said legislation passed last year hindered their ability to apprehend people. Families of loved ones killed in confrontations with police, said the legislation goes too far and “rolls back” the state further than where it was before last year’s changes.

Inslee said Thursday the bill refines police reform legislation passed last year. Sponsors of the bill worked to “craft legislation that upholds the principle of police accountability, de-escalation and the protection of individual liberties,” Inslee said.

“This bill is a result of that hard work,” he said.

One of the biggest questions surrounding police reform this session was how the Legislature would define “physical force.”

An opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office urged lawmakers to clarify its intent on much of the police reform legislation. Specifically, the opinion urged lawmakers to create a definition for physical force, something not clearly defined last year.

The bill signed by Inslee received support from Republicans, who made fixing police reform bills a top priority this year. On the Democratic side, votes were mixed. Some Democrats wanted the definition of use of force to include “intentionally and actively” fleeing a scene, but the word “intentionally” was taken out in the final version.

The bill now allows officers to use physical force to prevent a person from actively fleeing a lawful temporary investigative detention, provided the person has been given notice that they are being detained and are not free to leave.

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability asked Inslee to veto that section of the bill as they said it would target people of color. Inslee did not veto the portion of the bill.

Inslee said Thursday he thought the bill struck a “great balance” that allows officers to calm a situation, and it was consistent with what the state was trying to do to keep everyone safe.

“This bill, I thought, was an appropriate response to what we learned in the last year about our police accountability measures,” Inslee said.

It would allow officers to use physical force against a person to “the extent necessary to protect against a criminal offense when there is probable cause that the person has committed or is committing the offense.”

It also allows physical force to make an arrest, prevent an escape, take a person into custody or to protect against imminent threat of bodily injury.

Another bill that failed to make it out of the Legislature on time would have allowed officers to engage in vehicle pursuits when there is “reasonable suspicion” that a person has or is committing a violent offense, nonviolent sex offense, escape or driving under the influence offense and when not pursuing has serious risk of harm to others. “Reasonable suspicion” is a lower bar than the current probable cause standard.

Two other laws, one that adds more clarity to allow officers to respond to mental health calls and one to allow agencies to purchase some nonlethal weapons, were already signed by Inslee. They had broad support among both parties.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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