WA lawmaker proposes bill that would prohibit police tactics like chokeholds and tear gas, prohibit use of ‘military equipment’
Reform in police work, evolving tactics and practices, have been a long time coming. And in the digital age we’ve been able to see that there are definitively officers who act right, and officers who do not. Officers who are well trained and interact well with the public, and officers who do not. Officers who are an asset to their departments, their fellow officers and emergency staff, and their communities… and officers who are not.
We’ve seen officers make mistakes on camera, use force questionably in questionable circumstances, and it has called into review items like qualified immunity and civil asset forfeiture.
There is plenty to be critical of in today’s policing world, but there is also much to praise. We can solve much of policing’s problems by redefining, also known as passing laws for enforcement, that simplify the officers job. If it isn’t against the law then it isn’t the problem of law enforcement. You say we are over policed? I agree, and that in my opinion is a symptom of being over-legislated. Instead of refining rules we are quick to pass unreadable treatises worth of new ones.
And it appears Washington is all onboard that train and willing to gut law enforcement’s ability to deal with riots.
House Bill 1054 states that peace officers could not use: chokeholds or neck restraints; unleashed police dogs for the purpose of arresting or apprehending someone; or “tear gas”.
In other words. Washington wishes to further limit the avenues an officer has for less than lethal force against a suspect or suspects, further increasing risk to the officers and pushing their options closer to ‘lethal’ or ‘witness’ with increasingly little in-between.
Police used tear gas against rioters during the contentious summer events. The “summer of love” was chaotic and violent in many an urban locale. None of this is to say that police, whatever tactics they use, are not also civilly responsible for the health and well-being of anyone they put into custody. This is something we saw a failure of cause national outrage with George Floyd, one case among several where the use of force and the requirement to care for someone in custody met with tremendous failure.
The bill also states law enforcement agencies cannot acquire or use military equipment, defined as “firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or greater, machine guns, silencers, armored vehicles, armed vehicles, armed aircraft, tanks, mine resistant ambush protected vehicles, long range acoustic hailing devices, rockets, rocket launchers, bayonets, grenades, grenade launchers, missiles, directed energy systems and electromagnetic spectrum weapons.”
To be fair, the list includes a bunch of items not useful to law enforcement. The MK19 with HEDP rounds on its belt isn’t going to super useful for serving a warrant. But there are plenty that are, armored vehicles, 40mm launchers for crowd control and less lethal munitions, acoustic devices, and many more. There is a flexible use for military equipment in policing, not the least of which has come about because of the policing nature of follow on aspects in GWOT. Slapping the “military” label on equipment to make it sound scary and warmongerish does nothing to meaningfully advance a conversation about policing. It is a cheap cop out (pun intended) and you should see it for what it is.
Departments often rely on being able use federal equipment through various programs because it allows them to better spend their budget on things like keeping their cruisers fueled and maintained, provide first aid training to officers and the community, set up community events and sponsorships, and 1,000 other ways that departments can spend their limited budgets if they can borrow useful equipment for the price of gas essentially.
Some places its .mil federal equipment or nothing, they don’t have the budget to buy things like improved temporary restraints or patrol rifles for all their officers so they go without.
In addition, HB 1054 requires agencies to provide updated training on vehicular pursuits. It also would change what is allowed in those pursuits, specifically saying officers have to be able to prove “the safety risks of failing to apprehend or identify the person are considered to be greater than the safety risks associated with the vehicular pursuit.” It also says officers are prohibited from firing into a moving vehicle “unless necessary to protect against an imminent threat of serious physical harm from the operator’s or a passenger’s use of a deadly weapon, not including the vehicle itself.”
This portion is interesting. Redefining and increasing the threshold for a vehicle pursuit is fairly standard for today. But there are myriad very high risks to chasing a fleeing vehicle and most start with collateral and end with damage. The second part though, officers cannot fire into a moving vehicle “unless necessary to protect against imminent threat of serious physical harm…” and then they specifically exclude counting the vehicle a person is in as a weapon… “not including the vehicle itself.”
In other words, if this passes, it is free game (so to speak) to run down police officers with a car. Just don’t shoot at them. Officers will be prohibited from firing into the vehicle to stop you from running them over. Only if the driver or passenger presents a weapon would the officer be authorized to fire into vehicle.
What this rule does, is create a force imbalance. One that heavily favors someone choosing to flee police and cause havoc. It drastically lowers a fleeing individuals risks from law enforcement by hoping to somehow “trickle down” less risk to the bystander community. The State is force. If the State cannot effectively utilize force, it is not the State. Cops are that force, and the end of the day in certain circumstances force is the ultimate arbiter of who gets away with what. And this further steepens the curve in the criminal actors favor.
Instead of writing a rule where liability and collateral may be held by the department if a review finds the officers actions inappropriate to the circumstances (AKA there was no reason to shoot into the vehicle as it didn’t pose a credible threat to you) the rule prohibits a broadly circumstantial behavior and gives anyone in opposition to law enforcement an easy exploit against getting shot.
As much as we would like to pretend its our appeals and reasoning to our better nature that can reduce injury and prevent loss of life.. sometimes that isn’t the case. Sometimes its because ‘if you try and run over the cop they’ll shoot you’ just like ‘if you break into that house, the otherwise nice lady or gentleman will shoot you’. This rule change is more for the utopian thought arc that believes because they, the rule proposer, are a reasonable rational human being with boundaries that all men and women conform to those boundaries. They cannot process the theory that people actually act outside their personal boundaries, they might know on an academic level but they do not understand a different priority set then the one they personally hold.
This is a garbage bill that will only do harm. If we want to combat over-policing and bad LE policy we need to do it by changing the rules and behaviors we consider worth enforcing. And yes, that includes enforcing at the end of a gun barrel because the State is, at its core, legitimized force.