Kennewick Police say woman with knives could have been contained faster

Washington's new police reform law means certain 'less-lethal' tools can no longer be used

KENNEWICK, Wash. — A woman armed with two kitchen knives punctured nine Kennewick Police patrol car tires yesterday morning. Kennewick Police Department (KPD) say this incident should have taken five to ten minutes to contain, but new police reform law prohibited them from doing so.

In situations with hand-held weapons, KPD tries to keep as much distance as possible between police officers and suspects. “We’re going to try and back away and use as much time and distance as possible to de-escalate that situation and get her into custody,” says Commander Aaron Clem.

“Typically, in a situation like this, we would have used our 37-millimeter platform that could’ve addressed this in the first five or ten minutes,” says Clem.

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The 37-millimeter platform is also known as a baton, or a polyurethane rubber projectile. The platform is considered a less-lethal weapon. While they can sometimes inflict serious injuries on suspects, KPD trains police officers to avoid those areas. “They’re very accurate, so we can place them almost precisely where we want them,” Clem says.

However the 37-millimeter projectiles are no longer a legal option for police departments to use under Washington State House Bill 1054. The bill states that “a law enforcement agency may not acquire or use any military equipment,” with ‘military equipment’ being defined as anything over a .50 caliber ammunition. KPD’s 37-millimeter platform falls into this category.

While other alternatives exist, they come at the cost of range. KPD currently has tasers as a less-lethal alternative, but were not able to safely get in range of the woman with knives immediately.

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“She decided to crawl under a truck, which gave us the opportunity to get close enough to use both our tasers, and a pepper ball platform that Pasco Police Department brought over to assist us,” Clem explains.

In addition to less-lethal options, KPD also has a mental health professional on staff. During this altercation, however, the suspect was allegedly not positioned to speak to the mental health professional.

Despite the lengthy altercation, no one was hurt. “We’re going to comply with laws that come from legislature,” Clem says. “And we’re also going to do everything that we can do to provide excellent service to the community, making sure that everybody, the community members, the suspect that we came into contact with, and our officers are as safe as possible.

“If that means that we have to take more time to do it, and contain areas until we have an opportunity to take advantage of the tools that we have, then that’s what we’ll do.”

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