Sheriff outlines how legislation will change law enforcement response
August 5, 2021
Submitted by Sheriff Mark Howie
Changes in the law that went into effect on July 25, 2021, will make a difference in some ways the Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Office responds to calls for service.
House Bills 1310 and 1054 made drastic changes limiting what police can do in many situations affecting public safety. First, I want to say that WCSO will continue to make public safety our number one priority and we will continue to respond to situations with the goal of protecting the public, keeping the peace, and holding law breakers accountable. However, we are now limited in what we can do within the scope of our mission to protect and serve. The public will see changes in our response on the scene at in-progress calls, calls where a crime has been committed and a suspect is leaving the scene, mental health/crisis calls, welfare checks, civil calls, and others.
The new laws make dozens of changes in the name of decreasing use of force. I am only going to focus right now on the ones that are going to have the biggest impact on our response to certain calls as well as our limitations to detain or use force to detain suspects.
HB 1310 creates a “duty of reasonable care” which requires that we as law enforcement officers exhaust available and appropriate de-escalation tactics prior to using ANY physical force. Under the new law, it requires police to have “probable cause” before using force, as opposed to “reasonable suspicion.” The only time we can use force to detain suspects at a scene or stop individuals in a suspicious circumstance, for instance, is when we have probable cause to arrest them.
What that does is take away our ability to detain someone at a scene where they are suspected of committing a crime or likely to commit a crime. We can no longer force someone to stay or stop if we need to talk to them to determine if we have probable cause to arrest them or investigate the crime or incident at hand.
For example, an officer observes a person matching the description of a someone who just robbed a person walking down Main Street, or a domestic violence suspect walking away near the scene of the crime. Right then the officer has “reasonable suspicion” but is no longer authorized under the new law to use a reasonable amount of force necessary to detain the person if the individual decides to leave the scene or escape capture. An officer can only use force if an arrest can be made, and the only time that occurs is if there is probable cause to arrest. The legislature has taken away the crucial link of reasonable suspicion to investigate crimes or circumstances where we have a suspect in sight.
Before the law was changed, police officers were legally authorized to restrain people suffering from a mental health crisis and assist mental health professionals in order to transport them to a hospital for help. This was part of our community caretaking function. Under the new law, however, officers may not restrain the person simply for purposes of involuntary treatment, even when the mental health professionals have a lawful order to get that person to the hospital for assessment and treatment. As the law is written, this would include a missing child. Under the new law, we are not allowed to force a found child to go with us to return them to their guardian. There have been no exceptions written at this time, and if officers violate these new laws, they may be held criminally accountable and/or decertified as peace officers.
Although these are just a few of the many new laws (HB1054, 1140, 1223, 1310), in these bills that are mandating and limiting the scope of our duties, be assured that while we adjust to these changes and their ramifications, the Wahkiakum County Sheriff’s Office is working hard to protect and serve the communities in our county. We will keep you updated on any revisions to the laws and upcoming revisions to our own protocols.
We are available to answer any questions you may have. You can reach Undersheriff Gary Howell or Sheriff Mark Howie at 360.795.3242 Ext. 6 or 8.