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"This allows us to have those tools back": Spokane Law enforcement react to rollback of police reform laws

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill into law last week, clarifying the state's existing police reform laws that took effect last year.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington law enforcement can now use force to detain people once again, but with some restrictions. 

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill into law last week, clarifying the state's existing police reform laws that took effect last year. 

One of the top concerns law enforcement had with Washington State's series of police reforms laws was the ambiguous language. Officers believe House Bill 2037 addresses this concern by making it clear when police can use force to stop people from fleeing a temporary investigative detention. This is also known as a Terry stop.

Gov. Inslee signed the Terry Stop Bill into law on Friday. It is effective immediately.

"By the way the bill is written, it strikes a great balance to keep everyone safe," Inslee said.

The original police reform laws didn't allow police to use force to temporarily detain someone. Meaning, potential suspects could simply leave.

"The ambiguity is what prevented action at times because law enforcement couldn't be confident in the actions they were taking, and whether it would be legal or not" Undersheriff John Nowels with the Spokane County Sheriff's Office said. 

But under the new law, police may use physical force to detain someone if it prevents them from leaving the area, or to stop an immediate threat. However, they cannot use force when a detained person is being compliant.

"This allows us to have those tools back to detain them and be able to prevent them from hopefully, ideally, continuing down that crime spree that they may be right in the middle of," Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said.

Advocates for the police reform laws asked Inslee to veto section three of the law, which clarifies physical force.

In a letter from the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, it believes the law will allow for practices it fought to restrict. 

"The reality is, for people of color, this bill does not make us any safer," coalition member and Spokane resident Kurtis Robinson said. 

Enoka Herat with WA ACLU adds the ramifications of the new law.  

"This would allow officers to use force at the sort of the lowest levels of interaction when officers have the least amount of evidence connecting someone to wrongdoing," Herat said.

There are still some restrictions to police use of force. The law says police still must use reasonable care, such as first using appropriate de-escalation techniques, before using physical force. 

Robinson doesn't believe this is enough. 

"It's just the beginning," Robinson said. "Because the reality is, this should have been the standard all along."

But Chief Meidl acknowledges most of the reform laws remain intact. 

"All the other caveats that were included in the reform laws are still included: a duty to de-escalate, a duty to render aid, a duty to intervene as an officer if you see another officer using force that is not constitutional law is outside policy," Meidl said. "It keeps many of those same safeguards, but gives us back tools that we really need to keep our community safe."

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