Police reform efforts stalled; law enforcement sees rollback on restrictions

State laws governing police conduct seem to be easing, but law enforcement officials say barriers remain and funding is insufficient to meet additional demands.

Clallam County Sheriff Brian King and Port Angeles Police Chief Brian Smith said on April 16 the state Legislature pulled back on its push for laws to reform policing, but adequate funding for law enforcement is still lacking.

“We’re all about planning and strategic planning, and the Legislature has not let us strategically plan anything,” King told the public during a Port Angeles Business Association meeting last week. “We’ve been constantly reactive.”

King and Smith attributed Washington’s rising crime rates to a raft of legislation passed in 2021 following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and a nationwide surge in activism around police accountability.

Many of those laws were passed quickly and without input from law enforcement, Smith said, and they have increased the administrative burden on law enforcement agencies without additional funding to meet the new standards.

Smith credited state lawmakers with listening to law enforcement’s concerns and making adjustments but said there are several bills being proposed that would further hamper police efforts.

Rules amending a controversial police pursuit law go into effect in June, and several bills that had law enforcement concerned didn’t advance through the Legislature this session, even though many remain in the works.

A bill that would have created an Office of Independent Investigation under the state Attorney General’s Office didn’t pass out of committee, but neither did bills that would have allowed local governments to retain sales tax dollars for public safety.

House Bill 2231 would allow counties and cities to retain a 0.1 percent credit against the state’s 6.5 percent sales tax in order to fund criminal justice. Under the current version of the bill, 50 percent of the money collected must be used for attracting and retaining additional commissioned law enforcement officers.

“It would be huge,” Smith said of the additional funding. “It would be like winning the lottery.”

With additional funding, Smith said the department would be able to assign another detective to the peninsula’s multi-agency drug task force, the Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team.

“If we were to get this extra funding, we would add a detective to OPNET. We’ve already got one detective assigned there,” Smith said. “We would have some stable funding behind our outreach officers.”

That bill, co-sponsored by state Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles, was introduced in the House of Representatives and heard in the House Committee on Local Government, but it didn’t advance.

Funding for recruitment and retention will be a top concern for law enforcement in the next legislative session, King said, and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs will meet in May to draft its priorities for 2025.

In addition to funding, King said he hopes to see reforms to laws governing how law enforcement officers can interact with juveniles. Under current laws, deputies and officers cannot speak to juveniles without an attorney present.

“Which means we don’t talk to juveniles anymore, about anything,” King said. “We had a Senate bill and we had a House bill as well to try to pull some of these reforms back and say, ‘Hey, we really need access to juveniles to have these conversations,’ but that didn’t go anywhere.”

While Smith and King said there seems to be less appetite in the Legislature for police reform, there are still several proposed changes that have law enforcement concerned.

One bill, HB 1513, would prohibit law enforcement to stop vehicles for nonmoving offenses such as out-of-date registration tags or malfunctioning lighting devices. That bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate, but it didn’t advance out of committee in either body.