By Andy Hwang, Federal Way Police Chief
In 2021, our state Legislature enacted several laws related to law enforcement. The result was the most restrictive policing in the nation, directly and adversely impacting public safety.
Washington already has the lowest number of police officers per capita in the United States; so, the de-policing laws of 2021 created an environment where Washingtonians experience both the least amount and type of policing in the country.
The 2022 Legislative Session is now concluded. I feel a responsibility to inform the residents of Federal Way regarding recent legal updates to public safety, and then describe what we still need to do.
Last year’s House Bill 1054 (now at RCW 10.116.060) significantly changed the requirements of all vehicle pursuits by law enforcement, virtually eliminating pursuits in Washington. The legal standards required by the statute make it virtually impossible for officers to comply. The result is many more criminals now avoid capture by simply driving away from their crimes.
The 2022 legislature adjourned for the year after taking no action to fix this. (Proposed Senate Bill 5919 would have moved us in the right direction, but legislators took no action on it.) I am disappointed and concerned that state law continues allowing criminals to avoid apprehension, often without consequence, by simply driving away. The intentional lack of action by the legislature will continue to embolden criminal behavior, increase crime, and cause an overall reduction in public safety. The anti-pursuit law of 2021 leaves Washington residents with a legal imbalance favoring criminals over victims.
Another significant de-policing change in 2021 was the use of force law, House Bill 1310 (now at RCW 10.120). This eliminated law enforcement’s authority to physically interdict with individuals suspected of committing crimes. It sounds outlandish, but since it became effective last July, suspected criminals could simply walk away from investigative detentions. This had a direct, adverse impact on public safety. Gratefully, and thanks to a barrage of feedback from Washington’s law-abiding populous, the legislature course-corrected and fixed this with 2022’s House Bill 2037, which became effective on March 17.
Two other bills passed by the 2022 legislature help fix some of the 2021 de-policing bills. House Bill 1735 restores authority for peace officers to use physical force to the extent necessary in behavioral health circumstances, for involuntary treatment commitments, for taking custody in child protection cases, and other civil and community caretaking situations. HB 1735 took effect on March 4.
House Bill 1719 restores law enforcement’s authority to use some of the firearms that were banned for Washington peace officers in 2021, including shotguns and 40mm launchers. Both are used in a variety of dangerous situations, including to fire non-lethal munitions. HB 1719 took effect on March 4.
Many residents are frustrated over the inability of law enforcement officers to perform the public safety duties that the people expect. Especially at a time when violence is on the rise throughout our state, it was crucial for the legislature to act this year by addressing public safety concerns.
The 2022 legislature made some important corrections, but additional work remains for them in 2023. Vehicle pursuits is one. Another is their 2021 virtual decriminalization for possessing dangerous drugs. Federal Way residents – in fact, all Washingtonians – are rightfully sickened by the sight of rampant, explicit drug use. Public consumption of heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other dangerous substances creates an unacceptable atmosphere and danger to public safety throughout our state.
As law enforcement officers, we have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and enforce the rule of law. We will continue to work within constraints given us by the legislature. We also look forward to your support again next year when we seek additional legislative action. Law enforcement will continue advocating for victims of crime who are often forgotten in this dialogue. We must get the balance right and support changes that advance public safety, not criminal conduct.
It is an honor for us to serve you!