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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Dec. 6, 2023

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Herrera Beutler takes aim at states that pass ‘bad’ police reform bills


U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, has introduced a trio of bills in recent weeks that would take aim at states such as Washington that pass “bad” police reform legislation. The proposed legislation also authorizes further investments in local police departments.

“I would say I’m excited about the opportunity to back up what I feel like is a very demoralized force that we need right now,” Herrera Beutler told The Chronicle during a meeting with the editorial board on Friday.

Most recently, Herrera Beutler last week introduced the Invest to Protect Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation that would make “critical, targeted investments” by way of funding police departments with 200 or fewer officers — which make up about 95% of departments in her district, according to her office.

Those investments would include funding for de-escalation and domestic violence response, body-worn cameras, recruitment and retention, and mental health resources for officers.

The Southwest Washington congresswoman has also introduced bipartisan legislation that would increase compensation and hiring of police officers in rural communities through a 10-year investment in Community Oriented Policing Services grants by way of the COPS on the Beat Grant Program Reauthorization and Parity Act.

Appropriations for the program would increase program funding to more than $1 billion this fiscal year, if passed, her office said.

States such as Washington acted fast to pass police reform that put limits on what officers could do following the murder of George Floyd. The resulting legislation has in many cases left departments frustrated and scratching their heads — so much so that Democrats in the Legislature are gearing up fixes.

In response, Herrera Beutler is sponsoring the Refund the Police Act, currently in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. The bill as of early this week didn’t have any listed cosponsors.

The bill, if passed, would allocate $25 million in annual COPS grant funding over the next five years for states and local governments that don’t have any laws on the books requiring a heightened standard for use of force, such as Washington HB 1310 passed back in 2021; have not taken steps recently to eliminate drive-by shootings as a basis for first-degree murder, such as the recently-introduced Washington HB 1692; and that are expanding efforts to hire and retain officers.

Herrera Beutler said the new bills stem from seven months of meeting with multiple law enforcement officials and agencies about their needs and what changes they’ve experienced as a result from Washington state’s effort to reform policing. She said many police forces have said they feel demoralized due to the state’s new laws.

“When I meet with these folks, they’re not Republicans or Democrats. That’s what’s so ironic to me. Some of them are hardcore, long-term Democrats. So, it’s not a partisan thing,” Herrera Beutler said.

One of the major sticking points she said she’s heard from officers on is HB 1310, which deals with permissible use of force by an officer. HB 1310 stipulates officers cannot use forceful tactics unless to “protect against an imminent threat of bodily injury to the peace officer” or another person.

“I’ve seen it from our sheriffs, up and down I-5, (who) have said, ‘We’re not even going to be able to send people to some of these calls. It’s not because we don’t want to protect you, but we literally will be exposing ourselves,'” Herrera Beutler said.

“The goal is basically to say to the state of Washington, that if you want access to this money for depleted forces you have to take this law off the books,” she said of the Refund the Police Law.

The Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office have collectively reported a 60% increase in property crime, Herrera Beutler said.

She also shot down the notion that Washington has a problem of over-policing its communities, noting that Washington is ranked 51st among all states and D.C. in number of police per 1,000 population.

It’s important to note, however, at least among large cities, that on its face there is no significant correlation between the number of officers within a police force and the rate of violent crimes.

“It’s not like we have this police state where cops are ripping people out of cars and saying ‘show me your papers.’ That is a mischaracterization of how we’re operating already, so to take that further is dangerous — and we’re losing officers,” Herrera Beutler said.

Another law passed back in 2021 placed restrictions on officers’ ability to use a specific caliber of gun that was often used to fire less lethal ammunition, such as beanbags. Herrera Beutler said laws like these prevent officers from using less-lethal options that result in more frequent escalation.

“You literally have zero and 60 — you can do zero or you can go to 60 immediately,” she said. “That doesn’t help with de-escalation.”

Herrera Beutler said the departure of officers to other states and jurisdictions “is significant” and shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s also important to keep those officers in their own communities, focused on serving their neighbors, she said.

“Disheartened is an understatement for where they’re at,” she said.

At the state level

Democrats in the Legislature appear to be moving swiftly in recent days to bring legislation to the governor’s desk that would clarify portions of last year’s police reform, and perhaps bring some much-needed clarity for police agencies.

The state House passed HB 1719 and HB 1735 on Friday that would allow officers to use force under certain circumstances, such as while assisting crisis responders, and to allow the use of beanbag rounds in .50 caliber firearms.

Both bills, according to the House Democratic Caucus, are supported by the Washington Fraternal Order of Police, Washington Coalition for Police Accountability and the Washington Association of Designated Crisis Responders, among others.

“HB 1735 provides law enforcement agencies with the legal certainty they need to assist designated crisis responders, EMTs and firefighters with transporting those in need of involuntary treatment,” said Rep. Alicia Rule (D-Blaine), a cosponsor, in a statement. “Our designated crisis responders often enter volatile and unstable situations. It is vital that they have the support of law enforcement so that they can safely provide help and treatment to those who need it.”

Both bills will be further considered in the Senate.

Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, chair of the House Public Safety Committee, has also introduced legislation modifying the state’s physical force clause to allow it under instances such as: protecting against a criminal offense when there is probable cause that one has or is about to occur; preventing a person from fleeing a temporary investigative detention; and when taking a person into custody when authorized or directed by statute.

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said of Goodman’s legislation — HB 2037 — that both parties “have to support this so we can have effective policing in Washington again.”

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