‘It’s absolutely necessary’: Advocates reaffirm need for new police reform laws

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. — Big changes are coming this weekend in the way Washington police respond to crimes. Law enforcement officers across the state are frustrated and confused with the new laws going into effect.

The changes are part of a package of police reforms that passed the legislature this year.

Law enforcement agencies across Eastern Washington came together Wednesday to express their concerns about the new bills, which they say will limit them.

There were 13 laws passed during legislative session this year. One of those laws include banning the use of military equipment. Choke-holds and neck restraint will be banned, and tear gas use will be limited.

With all the police reform laws, advocates say it was done to help reduce violence in situations.

“You never hear the thousands of times we come in and calm things down and make things better, but you focus extreme points on the very rare times things go badly,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.

RELATED: Eastern Washington law enforcement leaders concerned about new reform laws

While gathering today, several police chiefs and sheriffs said they were confused about some of the laws and they were afraid the new laws will create issues for themselves and the community.

“To be blunt, these laws are creating a lot of fear amongst law enforcement because they’re very, very ambiguous,” said Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl.

The new laws say officers should not use force unless there’s probable cause. They must “exhaust all options” before using force, but officers are confused on how much time they need to do that.

“You’re going to see a lot of these calls take long because the law now requires us to take as long as necessary to avoid the prospect of using force,” Meidl said.

Taking that time, though, is what the advocates and lawmakers want police to do.

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, which helped made legislators put the new laws into place, said the new laws are meant to help hold police accountable and to use less violence.

“When police show up at a scene, they show up as warriors. They do not show up as guardians. They are going into battle,” said Fred Thomas.

In 2013, Thomas experienced it firsthand, his son getting shot at his home in Western Washington. Thomas said his son was unarmed.

“Nobody slowed down to stop and get the whole picture,” Thomas said.

Following the killing of his son, Thomas joined the coalition, too. The coalition believes all this push back from police is because of fear — fear of change from what they’ve been accustomed to for a long time.

“When I hear we can’t do this, what I actually hear is, ‘We don’t want to do this,'” said Kurtis Robinson, another member of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability. “Instead of trying to figure out the best way to get it done to serve the public they’re sworn to serve, they want to take their toys and go home.”

When asked about the confusion, the coalition said law enforcement should “read the laws.”

“I do believe we’re in a place right now where change is really being invited and it’s absolutely necessary,” Kurtis said.

While some officers say they can’t even respond to a scene or arrest people in certain situations, Leslie Cushman, another member with the coalition, said that’s not the case.

“There’s nothing in the new law that keeps an officer in their cruiser or has them not respond. It’s all about reducing the amount of violence they bring to the scene,” she continued. “We’re disappointed that this is their response, because the law is clear. Police can go to a scene, they can arrest if there is probable cause.”

“There has to be a clear reason, a clear threat to actually take a life, whereas right now, all an officer has to say is, ‘I feared for my life,’ or, ‘I thought.’ There is no recourse to that,” Thomas said. “So, it’s not a BIPOC problem, it’s the way the police think and their culture that is their problem that needs to change.”

Another issue some law enforcement leaders had — Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said they weren’t consulted while the laws were being made.

Senator Andy Billig tells us that’s not true, that he was reached out by Knezovich himself. When 4 News Now pressed him about it, Knezovich ended up saying he had called Billig once to help advise him about the use of armored vehicles.

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