Senate Republicans push police use-of-force reform across the finish line

Last year, the Democrat-led majority in the Washington State Legislature pushed a police-reform agenda that many in the public and law enforcement have argued is proving to be unworkable and dangerous. Law-enforcement agencies across the state have spoken out on how the new laws are making it difficult and, in some cases, impossible to protect the public. They have been begging for lawmakers to restore some balance to policing reforms, to allow them to better do their job of protecting the communities they serve.

Today, thanks to the persistent work and clinching votes of Senate Republicans, an important bill to address the public’s concern and correct the overreach of last’s year’s reforms is now on its way to the governor’s desk.

“Our communities are at risk, and many citizens are now starting to realize what the Senate Republican Caucus has been saying: that the 2021 session policies are jeopardizing the safety of the public,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “Fortunately, we were able to secure enough Democratic votes to get this important change across the finish line and to the governor’s desk.”

Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2037 passed the Senate 32-16, led by 21 votes from the Senate Republican Caucus. The bill passed the House of Representatives last month with a bipartisan vote of 87-11. Should it become law, the measure would modify the standard for the use of physical force by peace officers and create a clear definition of physical force.

Under the bill, a peace officer may use deadly force only when necessary to protect against an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer or another person, but the measure specifically states that in “this context, necessary means that, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonably effective alternative to the use of deadly force does not exist, and that the amount of force used was a reasonable and proportional response to the threat.”

This standard was the one advocated by law enforcement as a more balanced approach, because it takes into consideration all facts known to an officer leading up to and at the time of the use of force, and also the actions of the person police are trying to stop.

“This bill is about putting an end to the confusion and fear created by last year’s anti-police bills, which have left law enforcement unable to properly do its job,” said Padden, who is the lead Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee and a principal author of the Republican Safe Washington plan.

“This measure recognizes the fact that force is a necessary tool of policing, and provides a clear definition of physical force for agencies to use in training officers. It provides clear expectations, a balanced proportional approach and, most importantly, restores law enforcement’s ability to detain those committing crimes and protect Washingtonians during these dangerous times.”

Padden added, “It’s not the end of our efforts to create a Safe Washington, but it is a significant step in the right direction.”