Rep. Skyler Rude: The push to fix last year’s flawed police reform policies falls short

As a state lawmaker, I try to minimize the unintended impacts of legislation we pass at the Legislature. To prevent unintended consequences, it is critical that legislators listen to concerns from those impacted and make sure those voices are represented when policy decisions are made.

Such is the case with several police reform policies enacted in 2021 (House Bills 1310 and 1054) that severely hampered our law enforcement officers’ ability to do their jobs. Our 16th district delegation heard from those impacted, including law enforcement, and opposed both of these flawed bills.

Officers can’t effectively respond to emergencies if we have eliminated important non-lethal tools used to de-escalate. Officers can’t help a person suffering a mental health crisis if their partnership with a behavioral health professional has been severed by legislative action. And officers can’t ensure public safety if they cannot use force to detain a violent criminal at a crime scene.

We continue to face the challenges of chronic homelessness; substance abuse; untreated mental health challenges; and an increase in crime, theft, and homicide rates.

If communities are going to thrive, we must develop policies that effectively address the root causes of these problems. We must also address our police officer recruitment and retention crisis and provide more funding to police departments around the state. Washington can no longer rank last in the nation regarding the number of police officers per capita.

Folks might be wondering if anything is happening to reverse these failed reforms and restore our officers’ ability to do their jobs.

There was a strong push to fix some of last year’s legislative flaws this session. Unfortunately, only a few were addressed.  

Less lethal types of equipment, such as bean bags and foam projectiles, are important tools in the toolbox of our law enforcement agencies to de-escalate serious situations and prevent the use of deadly force. An unintended consequence of last year’s House Bill 1054 was to ban these tools. House Bill 1719 reverses the ban and gives law enforcement back these necessary tools.

The partnership between our law enforcement officers and behavioral health professionals is paramount. Last year’s House Bill 1310 eroded this essential partnership, thus endangering those experiencing a mental health crisis and the public. House Bill 1735 will restore: 1) law enforcement officers’ ability to use reasonable physical force to take a person who is experiencing a mental health crisis into custody for their safety and protection, and provide other assistance under the Involuntary Treatment Act; 2) the partnership between officers and behavioral health professionals to work collaboratively in helping the most vulnerable members of our communities; and 3) law enforcement partnerships with firefighters, emergency medical service providers, and other first responders.

Both House Bill 1719 and 1735 passed both chambers, and at the time this was written, are scheduled to be signed by Governor Inslee on March 4. They will go into effect immediately.

The police reform policies from last year tied law enforcement agencies’ hands regarding where and how they can use force. One of their number one requests to the Legislature this session was to provide clarity and definitions into the use of force standards. House Bill 2037 would provide definitions so law enforcement officers can confidently do their jobs. The Senate offered their version in Senate Bill 5919. Their bill would provide more precise definitions of the use of force standards and incorporate the “reasonable suspicion” standard back into law, which would allow officers to perform vehicular pursuits again. These bills passed their chambers but seem to have stalled in the legislative process. Law enforcement needs these definitions clarified, or their hands will remain tied.

In anticipation of a legislative session that failed to address key law enforcement concerns, our 16th district delegation led the effort in September of last year to seek a formal Attorney General (AG) opinion on various questions posed by law enforcement. That AG opinion, once issued, will provide legal guidance to law enforcement across our state on how to interpret the language created by the 2020 legislation.

With a focus on compassion and accountability, I will continue working in a bipartisan manner to foster solutions that don’t compromise public safety; keeping our families, neighborhoods, and communities safe; and ensuring accountability.  

Editor’s note: Rep. Skyler Rude, R-Walla Walla serves the 16th Legislative District.

As featured in the Dayton Chronicle and Prosser Record-Bulletin

State Representative Skyler Rude, 16th Legislative District
122G Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000