‘It will place individuals at a greater risk’: Police worry about new laws, social justice groups welcome the changes

SPOKANE, Wash. — On Sunday, new policing laws changed how law enforcement responds in emergency situations. Decades long tactics are going away as Washington reforms how police serve and protect.

“Will we still respond to certain calls, yes? Will it look different, absolutely,” said Jay Kernkamp, a Sergeant with the Spokane Police Department.

HB 1054 and 1310 eliminate chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants. Car chases will also be used less, and tear gas can’t be used in public riots, unless there’s special approval. All these laws were passed to keep the public safer, but Kernkamp isn’t sure they’ll achieve that goal.

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“It will place individuals and the community at a greater risk,” he said. “The individuals that place certain civilians in danger when they’re left untreated, we’re no longer able to say potentially guide them on to a stretcher based upon certain guidelines in 1310.”

However, the anti-racism group SCAR thinks these laws still give police freedom and flexibility to enforce the law.

“It’s encouraging, honestly,” said Jac Archer, the Organizer and Program Coordinator for SCAR. “We feel that a lot of hard work was done to ensure that these laws were reasonable and helpful and addressed the actual issues that we’re seeing with policing in Washington.”

The NAACP Chapter of Spokane also feels these changes will be beneficial. Kiantha Duncan, NAACP President, released this statement on the new laws:

“Understanding that change is often difficult in the beginning, I believe the new laws and reforms offer our state an opportunity to adjust the ways in which we police communities in Washington State. These reforms provide an additional layer of protection for communities who have been negatively impacted by the previous policing structure. Accountability is never a bad thing and while I understand that law enforcement across our state is challenged with figuring out how to implement the new laws while keeping the community safe, I am confident in their ability to identify new best practices and I trust that they will acknowledge, respect and implant these laws as they have been written and determined to be in the best interest of the community. Adaptability and the ability to pivot is what we should be focusing on. My hope is that we can work together until we get it right, this is just the beginning.”

Kernkamp recognizes there is room for change in law enforcement, and there hasn’t been enough emphasis on de-escalation. However, he fears too much oversight will limit their ability to respond.

“In the past, we’ve done a very poor job at identifying what de-escalation tools that we are using,” Kernkamp added. “We’re continuing to evolve and try to keep everybody including the community as safe as as possible.”

Archer says these new laws won’t fix the problem, but it’s a start. Only time will tell how these laws work to keep the community safe.

“Altering policing to address these issues better is just one piece of the puzzle, and what needs to be done next is going to depend entirely on how our community’s respond to these changes going forward,” Archer said.

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