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Cowlitz County officers train on new use of force law, brace for possible arrest lags
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Cowlitz County officers train on new use of force law, brace for possible arrest lags

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A new state law that aims to make police and suspect interactions safer could create lag times in arrests, local law enforcement say. Officers now need probable cause before using force to detain suspects.

The new requirement ups arrest requirements from reasonable suspicion — established in a longstanding legal precedent called a Terry stop — to probable cause, said Longview Police Captain Branden McNew. The changes could prevent arrests and embolden lawbreakers to commit crimes and flee police, he added.

Under the old rules, police could briefly detain people based on weaker justifications like unusual behavior and partial descriptions. Under the new rules, the officer needs stronger evidence before using force to stop suspects.

“There’s going to be unintended consequences from this legislation,” McNew said.

Neither the Longview nor the Kelso police departments could say whether arrests were down since the legislation took effect July 25, but Kelso Police Chief Darr Kirk predicted the law will endanger rather than protect the public.

“I think we’re going to have more crime,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to solve more crime.”

New laws

When Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 1310 and another 11 new police reform bills into law, he called the legislation a “moral mandate” to acknowledge societal inequalities highlighted when two black men — George Floyd in Minneapolis, and Manny Ellis in Tacoma — were killed by officers in 2020.

Ellis’ death was partially due to lack of oxygen from a bag officers placed around his face, according to the Pierce County medical examiner who ruled the death a homicide. While the intent of the new police reform laws was to prevent such deaths, the use of force changes have since stopped a minor local theft arrest.

Kalama police training

Kalama Police Chief Ralph Herrera walks outside the Kalama Police Department on Monday during a training on new state laws that change the way police question and detain suspects. 

Use of force

Kalama Chief Ralph Herrera said the Kalama Police received a report of an unwanted person in the Camp Kalama RV Park laundromat soon after the new use of force law took effect. When asked to leave, the man grabbed clothes from a dryer that witnesses suspected did not belong to him. When police arrived, they could not detain the man because there was no victim to give permission to identify the belongings and state the man should be prosecuted, Herrera said.

“On the one hand we have the recent laundry theft, but apply those similar circumstances to a shooting,” Herrera said. “The consequences are far reaching.”

On July 28, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department called off a K-9 unit to detain a shooting suspect. The dogs could be considered a form of force and officers said they did not have probable cause. The victim died and the suspect fled, reported the department.

Kirk in Kelso called the new use of force legislation “more restrictive and not clear.” The Washington State Attorney General’s Office is to release guidelines for the law by July 2022, but until then departments are relying on their municipality attorneys and industry associations to interpret the law. Kirk said waiting a year for guidance leaves officers in limbo out on the streets.

“July 25 came and we still put our uniforms on and went to work without clear explanations of this law,” he said.

Training

Novice and senior officers are retraining how to question and detain suspects in light of the recent legislation. Last week, Herrera held a third training session.

Kalama Officer Eric Johnson took three sample 911 calls featuring volunteer actors: a fistfight between friends, an armed man attempting suicide and a car thief running from police.

Herrera said the new changes require “more forward thinking.” As the actor playing a suspect fled the fictional crime scene, one officer kept him in sight while Johnson questioned a witness to start collecting probable cause.

“We want to ensure we can keep public safety in mind, but not violate the law,” Herrera said.

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