TACOMA, Wash. — The Pierce County Council has endorsed a revised version of County Executive Bruce Dammieier’s letter calling for state legislators to adjust some of last year’s reforms to policing in Washington.
The letter specifically highlights House Bill 1310, and the adjustments that would allow police to pursue suspects and use reasonable force in more circumstances.
Their goal is to address the surge in crime in Pierce County and throughout western Washington.
“We’ve seen very significant increases in violent crime including homicides and assaults,” Dammieier said. “We’ve seen a significant increase in property crime, and we know that we gotta do something.”
After some revisions, the Council signed off on the letter that calls for:
1. Clearly defining “physical force”
2. Allowing vehicular pursuit if it’s less dangerous than the offense
3. Expressly authorizing investigative detentions (Terry stops) under reasonable suspicion
4. Permitting use of force when a law enforcement officer reasonably suspects an individual possesses a firearm or dangerous weapon
Dammieier said the limitations in the reforms prevent deputies from being effective, such as in vehicle pursuits.
“You can’t pursue car thieves,” he claimed. “That’s part of the reason why car thefts have gone up so dramatically in Pierce County. Because the car thieves know that law enforcement can’t pursue.”
But LegallyBlack founder Tisha Marie said that’s not the case, because the reforms don’t forbid officers from pursuing suspects. Marie said it’s not the reforms that need to be adjusted, but the attitude within law enforcement.
“You have words that say, ‘cannot pursue unless deemed a threat to themselves, the public, or police officers.’ But police officers don’t read the full policy,” Marie said. “They’re just like, ‘oh, these reforms don’t allow me to do my job, I can’t pursue this assailant who stole your car.’ You absolutely can, you just don’t want to.”
Defining what force means has been a main point of contention between law enforcement and advocates since the reforms were implemented.
Pierce County Councilmember Hans Zeiger hopes clearer language will address that before Pierce County loses more of its deputies.
“Without that clarity, I am very worried that more of our working law enforcement officers are going to leave the force,” he said.
But Marie is concerned that this is a small step to regressing back to a harmful policing model for Pierce County.
“We’re going back to the fear-based policing system that we had before,” Marie said. “It seems like officials are looking to make police more comfortable by increasing their power presence and incentivizing the use of force.”