According to a report in The Columbian, those arrested in connection with the July 23 murder of Clark County Sgt. Jeremy Brown may have fled from law enforcement officers hours earlier. I received a similar report from someone with close ties to the local law enforcement community.
This question needs to be settled, and here’s why: On July 25, Washington’s law enforcement agencies became subject to controversial new laws that put strict limits on police conduct, equipment and tactics — including vehicle pursuits. It’s been reported that many agencies changed their policies early, in anticipation of the new restrictions.
Did a decision to suspend a pursuit allow suspects in a Vancouver burglary to remain free and become the suspects in Sgt. Brown’s slaying? I hope not, but going forward, there’s every reason to think more people will elude police because nearly all pursuits must now have prior authorization from a supervisor.
Tactics and equipment are covered in the law created by House Bill 1054. The law resulting from HB 1310 placed tighter restrictions on the use of force, while the law made by Senate Bill 5051 more closely regulates police conduct.
Members of the legislative majority profess surprise at the fallout from their new policies. Yet during a committee hearing on HB 1054, for instance, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) stressed the need to “ensure that well-intentioned language does not endanger the public or the public servants,” and that the issues being debated were “important enough for the Legislature to get them right the first time.”
Unfortunately, our Democratic colleagues didn’t get it right the first time. It doesn’t matter if they, community organizations and others came to the table in good faith, as a sponsor of HB 1310 asserts.
Their self-described effort to “transform how police show up in our communities” has clearly backfired, in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for way that isn’t making people safer.
Sponsors of the changes suggest officers have received misinformation and are hung up on ambiguities. They’ve dismissed the legitimate concern that first responders and hospital staff can no longer count on officers to offer security at the scene of an emergency or in an examination room.
But, if the laws weren’t seriously flawed, why did sponsors run to the state attorney general for cover, in the form of an advisory opinion, days before they took effect?
To me, that says it all.
Clearly, the majority failed to “constructively collaborate” with law enforcement groups, as Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins recently put it. Otherwise, Democrats might have realized beforehand that their new ban on heavy-caliber weapons would prohibit officers from firing non-lethal “bean bags” to help de-escalate a standoff.
I met this week with Sgt. Brown’s widow, who shared the major concerns her late husband had about the new restrictions. That echoed what I’d heard from John Horch, Clark County’s chief criminal deputy.
“Almost every police officer I know wants to improve and find better ways to perform our jobs to keep you safe,” said Horch, while eulogizing his fallen friend. “Since we’re on the front line, listen to us, hear what we need to be successful in our duties and stop the blame.”
With violent crime rising and weaker drug laws in place, legislators need to truly listen to officers and fix these badly written laws. It can’t happen soon enough.
State Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, represents the 17th Legislative District and served on the Senate Law and Justice Committee from 2017-2020.