Eastern Washington law enforcement leaders concerned about new reform laws

SPOKANE, Wash. — Law enforcement leaders from across Eastern Washington gathered on Thursday to address their concerns regarding new reform laws which will soon go into effect. 

Thirteen laws passed during the 2021 legislative session. Among them are laws that ban the use of military equipment that is .50 caliber or greater; require tear gas only be used during a hostage situation or for riots outside a correctional facility; and enforce increased transparency and accountability regarding misconduct by officers.

During the Thursday news conference, law enforcement leaders repeatedly claimed the new laws are ambiguous, are creating fear among officers and that there are still many questions about what is expected of those in law enforcement. 

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One of the laws addressed states officers cannot “use reasonable suspicion” when responding to calls. Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said developing probable cause will take officers longer, which will result in criminals getting away. 

Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich repeatedly claimed that law enforcement was not involved in the conversations amongst legislators, but Senator Andy Billig quickly disputed that.

In a message to 4 News Now, the Senate Majority Leader said “It is simply not true that law enforcement was not involved. Many changes were made along the way as a result of input from law enforcement. In fact, one of the state’s largest law enforcement organizations, the Fraternal Order of Police, actually supported both bills being discussed.” 

When asked about this, Knezovich said he received “zero calls” from three of his lawmakers, but then backtracked saying Billig did help with his concerns about restrictions on armored vehicles. 

“The Sheriff’s Office contacted me to request a change in the police tactics bill related to police use of military-style vehicles and we made the change they requested,” Billig said. 

Adams County Sheriff Dale Wagner said the new laws were made without smaller communities in mind. He said they have fewer staff and a larger area to cover, which he claims will tie up even more officers in responding to situations. 

Moses Lake Police Chief Kevin Fuhr made similar sentiments, saying the new laws will take away officers since they will have to take longer in their investigations. 

Several lawsuits have been filed in response to the new laws, including one in direct response to ESHB 1054. Though this bill focuses on police tactics and equipment, it transfers emergency decision-making authority in the case of a riot from the Sheriff to the Chair of the Board. 

Knezovich said he will be joining the lawsuit and the Spokane County Commissioners voted unanimously to support him in doing so. 

“This is yet another example of government overreach by our State Legislature,” said Chair of the Spokane County Board of Commissioners Josh Kerns. “Our Sheriff is elected by the voters of Spokane County to do a job. Requiring the Sheriff to get approval from the County Commissioners before utilizing techniques to deescalate a dangerous situation is not in the best interest of our community of public safety.” 

The new reform laws will go into effect at midnight Sunday.

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