New police reform bills are concerning

Open letter to Gov. Inslee:

I am deeply concerned after being briefed by our city police chief on the impact of the new state laws that took effect on July 31, 2021, that prevent police officers from performing their duties to protect citizens from crimes. The new bills seem to be a knee-jerk reaction to incidents by a small number of bad police officers who deserve to be punished. By enacting poorly defined police reform bills without law enforcement at the table, law-abiding state citizens become the victims.

Specifically, there is concern that under the new law HB 1054, officers are not to pursue fleeing vehicles when the driver is suspected of other lower-level crimes that don’t involve drunken driving, such as theft or property damage. Instead, a car chase is only warranted in most cases if there is probable cause to believe a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent offense, such as a kidnapping or sex offense. That “probable cause” standard is a higher one than existed before for initiating a car chase.

HB 1054 also sets strict limits on the use of military equipment by police agencies. This part of the law has created some ambiguity around equipment that some agencies use to deploy less-than-lethal force options, such as bean bag rounds. Some of those launchers and other devices may qualify as military equipment under the law.

Another concern is the need in some instances for approval by a supervisor before an officer could proceed in a high-speed pursuit of a suspect. For small cities or rural police departments, this could be a burdensome requirement and allow some criminals to escape.

As a private citizen and city council member, I am not against police training or reform. I am very proud that the City of Port Orchard under the leadership of Chief Matt Brown recently completed an accreditation program to improve skills and ability to provide service to and protect the public.

What I am against are vague public laws with good intent, but poor execution, that handicap police officers. This coming legislative session, please work with law enforcement, the Legislature and community groups to make it a priority to give law enforcement the tools they need to protect the citizens of the great state of Washington.

Jay F. Rosapepe

Port Orchard