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The Impact – ACLU-WA and WASPC on 2024 Law Enforcement Legislation

Mike McClanahan profile by Mike McClanahan

State lawmakers are weighing efforts to change laws governing law enforcement tactics, procedures, and investigations of the police themselves.

There are also a number of bills to modify state sentencing guidelines, increasing penalties for some offenders or reducing the maximum punishment for others.

House Bill 1513 would limit vehicle stops for non-moving violations and require written consent before vehicle or passenger searches.  The bill would also create a grant program to help lower income drivers pay for equipment problems like having a tail light out.

Senate Bill 5383 would limit citations for jaywalking to only those instances when a pedestrian steps directly into the path of a vehicle in a way that makes it impossible for vehicles to stop in time. It would also eliminate the requirement that people walk in a direction facing traffic when there aren’t adequate sidewalks, regardless of the presence of shoulders.

Senate Bill 5056 Would allow courts to add up to 2 years to a property crime sentence for a habitual  offender.

House Bill 1994  would let defendants in gross misdemeanor or misdemeanor cases have their charges dismissed if they comply with court-ordered conditions.

House Bill 2027 and Senate Bill 5905 would require newly elected sheriffs or appointed police chiefs to be certified by the Criminal Justice Training Commission and empower the commission to decertify a chief or sheriff at any time.  

House Bill 1325 and Senate Bill 5451 would raise the minimum age for life sentence without parole from 18 to 25 and allow people convicted of crimes prior to age 25 to petition the Indeterminate Sentence Review Board for early release under certain conditions. 

Senate Bill 6009 and House Bill 2414 would prohibit officers from “hog-tying” a person which it defines as connecting a hobble restraint to handcuffs or other restraints. The bill would also specify that hog-tying constitutes excessive force. 

House Bill 1445 would authorize the Washington State Attorney General’s Office to investigate and take civil enforcement action against law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities .

House Bill 1579 would create an Office of Independent Prosecution within the Attorney General’s Office authorized to investigate and prosecute crimes involving police use of deadly force cases.

House Bill 2390 and Senate Bill 6200 would require vehicle impoundment and 12 to 18 months of electronic monitoring for adults and juveniles convicted of attempting to elude police vehicles.    

There’s also an initiative to remove the restrictions on police vehicle pursuits enacted in 2021, I-2113.

Cracking down on people who try to outrun police vehicles is one of the legislative priorities for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC).

“The current law is, in my opinion, overly restrictive and it sends the wrong message to criminals. We’ve seen more reckless driving, exponential increases in people fleeing from lawful traffic stops and a huge increase in traffic fatalities on our roadways,” said WASPC Executive Director Steve Strachan. “I’m not saying every traffic fatality in a roadway is because of the pursuit law, but I think it’s part of it. It’s that sense of brazen, you know, criminality that we’re seeing sometimes out there. I think the way for us to start to reverse that direction is both of these things: more flexibility to pursue- again, not to pursue more, but so that we send the right message to the bad guys and then using some of these other tools like technology and greater sentencing and seizure of vehicles to send the message that if you run, you’re going to get caught and it’s going to be very, very serious.”

Another top priority for WASPC this year  is increased funding for police recruitment and retention. 

“We are last in the nation 51st out of 50 states plus the District of Columbia in staffing in the nation, have been for over 12 years. Staffing is really important for a lot of things: training, supervision, culture, de-escalation, holding each other accountable, all those things matter. And so funding is really critical to provide the public safety that I think the public deserves,” said Strachan.

 House Bill 1445 is on the list of legislative priorities for the ACLU of Washington this year.

“We see this bill as really providing some safeguards and guardrails when, you know, the majority of departments are following the law and the Constitution. But when there are outliers and when there are patterns that result in misconduct, you need an outside, you need an outside source to be able to sort of check under the hood and see what, if anything, needs to be fixed and to put a department on the right course,” said Enoka Herat, ACLU-WA Director of Policing and Immigration Policy. “You can’t really solve that with the tools we currently have. Right now, what we’re left with is having to go to the US Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. and request an investigation from them. But they basically oversee 18,000 departments. And so in the times that ACLU Washington and other community groups have reached out to them, it’s taken years before they even respond. If they respond at all. And so we think the state AG’s civil rights department being able to do these kinds of investigations would be more effective and more efficient to really correct course.”

Herat is not in favor of easing restrictions on police pursuits, or enhancing penalties for eluding police vehicles, and disagrees with Strachan about the impact of pursuit restrictions on public safety.  

“Well, we do agree that that pursuits should be limited, and that is because pursuits are incredibly dangerous, despite how great they look on TV or movies. But 50% of people killed in pursuits are uninvolved bystanders, just people on the streets, other passengers or people in cars. And so they are incredibly dangerous as an inherently dangerous tool. And the current law, which does restrict pursuits, is working,” said Herat. “It still allows officers to engage in pursuits for risky, for risky and dangerous behavior.”

“There are already strong consequences for attempting to elude. Attempting to elude is a felony. And so it’s it’s you know, for the first offense, you get jail time of two months, you lose your license. It’s already a severe penalty, especially for, you know, for the average person who’s just trying to get to work or use their car for other reasons. So we think there’s already strong penalties and we think instead that we need to, you know, ensure that there’s more safety on the roads and not allow for these pursuits that put everyone in danger,” she continued.