Appropriate use of force for law enforcement debated
By Juan Morfin
WNPA Press Group
The degree of force used by a police officer must be “proportionate and reasonable,” according to a bill recently approved by the state Senate.
The bill also specifies that officers will also be permitted to engage in vehicular pursuits as long as there is a “reasonable suspicion” during a traffic stop.
The Senate voted 31-18 on Senate Bill 5919 on Feb. 9 with a handful of Republicans joining majority Democrats. The bill cleans up language adopted last year on the use of force that many in the law enforcement community have called confusing and contradictory.
“The Sheriff’s Office … believes that Senate Bill 5919 strikes the right balance between correcting errors and overreacting while preserving the positive and reformative intent of last year’s laws,” a statement said. from the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office.
The bill also states that an officer can use physical force to:
• protect against criminal behavior when there are probable grounds for arrest;
• to detain for investigative purposes;
• protect against an imminent threat of bodily harm to the peace officer, another person or the person against whom the force is used.
At a public hearing, Lakewood Mayor Jason Whalen said last year’s legislation required police to have “probable cause” to stop a vehicle. It’s a higher standard than “reasonable suspicion” and sometimes makes it “difficult, if not impossible” to stop a vehicle, he said.
In this year’s bill, before using physical force, a police officer should use all available and appropriate de-escalation tactics and, where safe and feasible, use less lethal alternatives before using any physical force. .
Less lethal alternatives include, but are not limited to, verbal warnings, a taser, pepper spray, batons, and beanbags.
Renton Mayor Armondo Pavone said the current law makes his officers hesitant instead of helpful and questionable instead of decisive. He urged the committee to pass the bill.
Sonia Joseph of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability testified against the bill saying the new language allows for more racial profiling, and she told how her son was killed by police in 2017.
“He was a young person of color who had expired tabs and was unarmed and who was killed,” she said. “Allowing the use of physical force based on investigative stops, which include traffic stops based on offenses such as expired tabs, opens the law up to racial profiling.”
Carmen Rivera, a criminal justice educator at the University of Seattle, said last year’s use of force legislation encouraged officers to use less lethal forms of force. More time is needed to judge the law’s impact, she said.