Police Reform Laws: Unintended Consequences or Are They Unintended?

Police Reform Laws: Unintended Consequences or Are They Unintended?

By Steve Pomper

I’ve been covering and commenting on the horrible anti-rule of law legislation recently passed in states like Illinois, Virginia, and Washington. The latter interests me not only because that’s where I currently live but also, Washington has one of the worst slate of anti-law enforcement laws in the nation. I also took notice because the following story took place in the county where I live and involved the fire department my wife served for 25 years.

If societal chaos is truly the radical left’s goal, as it seems to be, we must give them credit. They do chaos really well. It wasn’t enough that mayors, city councils, and city prosecutors have de facto nullified so many quality-of-life laws by refusing to allow officers to enforce those laws. Now, after seemingly forgetting how legislation works, they’re using their legislative authority to pass irresponsible laws, such as Washington State’s HB 1310.

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO), led by an excellent sheriff, Adam Fortney, posted this Facebook entry. You’ll notice it’s not an editorial but just states the facts, which is still an indictment. 

On a Sunday, August 1st, in an unincorporated part of Edmonds, Washington, parents called 911 to report their adult son was “exhibiting behavioral health issues.” Essentially, he was out of control. 

SCSO and firefighters from Snohomish County Fire & Rescue (SCFR) arrived and located the man lying in the bed of an unknown person’s pickup truck. The cops and firefighters attempted to talk the man into going to the hospital for an evaluation. SCSO said, according to the state’s Involuntary Treatment Act, deputies had “grounds to take the patient into protective custody.” But, not with the conflicts created by the new laws.  

After refusing to speak with anyone, the man suddenly stood, jumped out of the truck bed, darted across someone’s private property, and disappeared into the woods. The man obviously could not care for himself, was unable to engage with people lucidly, and illegally trespassing, which made him a danger to himself (and possibly to others).

Because of the new anti-police laws, cops may not use any physical force to detain people (you know, because, according to the state’s Democrat legislature, cops just want to kill minorities, people with mental health issues, and addicts). Note: physical force includes an officer holding a person’s arm to gain compliance.  

The new laws also cloud the issue about whether probable cause, rather than reasonable suspicion, exists allowing the use of physical force. Lying in the back of someone’s pickup truck is essentially trespassing, but without the vehicle’s owner being present, cops can’t know for sure the man didn’t have permission to be there. 

So, now Washington cops must deal with competing and contradictory laws because of new legislation passed which is based on a myth about cops. 

When I was an active cop in Washington State, we would have already taken this poor guy into protective custody, and he’d have been on his way to mental health treatment. But no longer. So, where did the guy end up instead of the hospital? 

While the parents, firefighters, and deputies searched for the man, the deputies were dispatched to a burglary in progress. A nearly naked man had broken into a families’ house. The homeowner locked his family in an upstairs room, then confronted the man. The homeowner held the man at knifepoint until SCSO’s arrival. 

You’re probably already ahead of me. Yes, the burglar was the man the firefighters and cops had been looking for. And, yes, now they had probable cause of a crime, so they took the man into custody. They transported him to the hospital for a mental health evaluation. The county prosecutor will determine later whether he would be charged with any crimes.  

Think about where this call could have gone. The homeowner knows nothing about the man. And whether the man has mental health issues doesn’t matter when a nearly naked stranger breaks into your house. People with mental health issues can also commit crimes.

And what if the homeowner had armed himself with a gun instead of a knife? The scenario the cop-hating legislators believe they are trying to avoid, the person with mental health issues being seriously injured or killed, would have been more likely to happen, not less. 

These ideological legislatures are making messes of their states. In Washington State, there are stories almost daily from all over the state about cops’ hands being tied because of the new “police reform” laws. On one recent occasion the new laws forced officers to decide not to use a K-9 to locate a murder suspect. In another incident, the new laws prevented cops from taking a person with mental health problems into custody. That person then burned down an apartment building, causing 80 people to relocate. 

Mike Solan, president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild recently appeared on FOX News’ America’s Newsroom. The NPA tweeted out the interview. Solan is concerned about Seattle’s “activist class” making the cops ineffective and “putting public safety at risk.” 

Solan elaborated, saying, “It definitely seems like it’s targeting specific law enforcement people and the reality is it’s the public… most impacted by this because your safety, public safety will be put at risk because we’re basically handcuffed from being effective from doing our jobs… because of the Seattle activist class that continue to push some of this legislation that has drastic repercussions for everybody now across the state.”

It’s like these stories about cops thwarted by half-assed response options are now rolling off some sort of social justice conveyor belt. And, as Solan alluded to, the legislators think they are “punishing” or keeping the cops “in check.” But what they are doing is punishing the public and keeping police protection “in check.”