A dozen Washington state police reform measures that took effect in July are already leaving their mark on law enforcement operations after deputies refrained from employing a K-9 to search for a murder suspect for fear of violating the new laws.
Sergeant Darren Moss Jr. with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office told Fox News that officers are taking a “conservative approach” to cases now and are often unclear on when it is appropriate to use force.
Moss referred to an incident four days before the interview, when his department called off a search for a murder victim out of concern that the use of a K-9 might lead to excessive force.
On the day of the incident, deputies responded to 9-1-1 calls of shots fired at a Kohls store in Puyallup. When the deputies arrived at the scene, they found that a young man was dead. Witnesses say they saw a male in a black shirt and pants running from the shooting.
The department said in a statement that it did not have enough probable cause under the new laws to justify the use of physical force.
“A K9 officer was on scene within minutes, but because probable cause had not been developed for a particular individual, they decided not to track for the possible suspect since they could not use force to detain him,” the department said.
Moss explained that the investigating officer was worried that a K-9 could end up biting the suspect without probable cause, which would be a violation of the new law enacted by House Bill 1310.
“They moved from us being able to use reasonable suspicion to pursue vehicles or to use force in a situation where we found someone we suspected of a crime and they upped that to probable cause, which just requires a little bit more evidence, which is what we use to make an arrest, but not to detain someone,” he said.
Moss added that his department was only able to provide minimal training for deputies on the new law before it went into effect.
“The state academy did not have any training available for the agencies until about the week of the changes going into effect so a lot of agencies were scrambling to get their policies in check and make sure officers had a little bit of training,” he said.
Representative Roger Goodman, a supporter of the bill, did not speak about this specific case, but said that the intent of the law is to provide better treatment to members of the community and get police to focus more on de-escalation tactics.
“Police should be responding to calls, they should show up. The rules of engagement may change a little bit when they do show up. Because we want to focus on de-escalation and less use of force,” he said.