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MLPD supports bill on reasonable suspicion, use of force

by TIMOTHY FAIRBANKS-CLOUSER, Herald Legislative Writer
| January 31, 2022 1:00 AM

The Washington State Senate is hearing a bill on Tuesday that reverts the standard for law enforcement making a stop to reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause.

Moses Lake Police Department Chief Kevin Fuhr said he was in favor of Senate Bill 5919 and wanted citizens to attend a public hearing on it, which will be available online, and give input. He said the bill would return the authority necessary for law enforcement to keep its communities safe, which was stripped with last year’s legislation, such as House Bill 1054.

“Those bills from last year are truly making our communities less safe,” Fuhr said.

Officers currently have to prove probable cause before stopping individuals, which is the same standard as when making an arrest. He said not being able to stop someone upon reasonable suspicion limits law enforcement’s ability to prevent crime preemptively.

Senate Bill 5919 states officers are to engage in a pursuit, with discretion, when a person poses a greater threat to public safety if not apprehended in the chase; current legislation requires a suspect to pose an imminent threat to others at the moment officers pursue.

It takes time to investigate and sometimes officers need to act at that moment, Fuhr said.

Fuhr said if officers come upon a known gang member suspected of possessing firearms or other dangerous weapons, there is not much they can do, especially when the suspect flees. Without probable cause, officers cannot pursue the individual, he said.

Senate Bill 5919 prevents people from fleeing lawful detention and allows officers carrying out warrants and other court orders to take a person into custody. Officers would be able to detain suspects reasonably suspected of having dangerous weapons.

Current legislation only allows officers to ask a person if they have any weapons and comply with a voluntary search. If a person denies being searched, they are likely to be let go, Fuhr said. SB 5919 allows officers to detain the individuals and search for weapons if there is suspicion.

He said Moses Lake experienced an uptick in gang and drug-related violence in the past year. Being able to stop a known gang member and search for weapons helps keep officers safe and protects future public safety.

Senate Bill 5919 also defines physical force for law enforcement, which many law enforcement agencies and legislators said was needed, as prior legislation was lacking.

SB 5919 defines physical force as “any technique or tactic used by a peace officer pursuant to enforcing the criminal laws of this state that is reasonably likely to cause physical injury or transient pain.”

Officers would be allowed to use physical force to prevent a suspect from fleeing detention, carry out warrants and court orders and apprehend suspects with dangerous weapons, Fuhr said.

The use of deadly force would be permitted when a suspect poses an imminent threat of death or serious injury to an officer or other person. The definition of imminent would be modified to take out a suspect’s intent to cause harm and changes the threat risk from immediate to imminent.

People can submit written comments online for Senate Bill 5919, which has a public hearing in the Senate Law & Justice Committee at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at bit.ly/3AIjXm2. People can comment by clicking “comment on this bill” on the same page.