KENNEWICK (July 22, 2021) — The Washington Fraternal Order of Police (WAFOP) said today they support a request for a formal written legal opinion from the Washington State Attorney General regarding the implementation of ESHB 1310 and ESHB 1054, the use of force and police tactics bills approved in the 2021 legislative session. The support comes in response to decisions by some law enforcement executives to remove less-lethal weapons from service in response to ESHB 1310 and ESHB 1054.
“Our organization believes that the decision to remove from service less-lethal weapons greater than .50 caliber is an unwise overreaction to the legislation enacted in 2021 and ignores the overall context and legislative intent of lawmakers,” said Marco Monteblanco, president of the Washington Fraternal Order of Police. “While we can understand and appreciate law enforcement’s desire to bring additional attention, clarity and consideration to the laws adopted by the Legislature in 2021, we believe that elimination of these less-lethal weapons could have the opposite effect, compromising not only the safety of our officers, but also the public we serve. WAFOP worked closely with the Legislature on these bills, and believe we understand lawmakers’ intent and the context in which the bills were passed,” he said.
When read together, ESHB 1310 and ESHB 1054 reinforce what is common practice within the law enforcement profession, namely the use of the lowest level of force necessary in pursuit of the lawful purpose of our officers’ actions, Monteblanco said.
“It’s unfortunate that some in law enforcement are misinterpreting these laws, disregarding what we believe is clear legislative intent and are using these changes to politicize their implementation. This is a time for leadership and for those of us in law enforcement to get this right. Proper implementation of these bills is too important to do otherwise,” said Monteblanco.
What would help most right now is a formal written legal opinion from the Office of the Attorney General so that law enforcement and the community have a clear sense of how the new legislation is to be applied, he said. This would clarify lawmakers’ intent in adopting these measures and position the Legislature to remove any ambiguity about the bills in the 2022 session.
While ESBH 1054 includes language banning the use of firearms and ammunition of greater than .50 caliber, the Legislation goes on to discuss “military-grade” weapons and specifically mentions items such as rockets, missiles, and bayonets. Moreover, ESHB 1310 clearly states the Legislature’s intent that peace officers will use the least amount of physical force necessary to overcome actual resistance and proper de-escalation under the circumstances. It specifically lists “conducted energy weapons, devices that deploy oleoresin capsicum, batons, and beanbag rounds” as being among the desired “less-lethal alternatives.”
“Devices like bean bag or sponge rounds, although exceeding the .50 caliber metric, are clearly the type of less-lethal alternatives that lawmakers want to encourage. Without these tools, officers are left with only their firearms to respond in situations where de-escalation tactics are needed,” said Monteblanco. “Given this background and reading both bills together to give each its fullest effect, we believe that removal of these devices from the field will compromise the safety of officers and public alike, and that their removal should not be pursued,” he added.
“In the meantime, we encourage all law enforcement leaders to consider the legislative intent of these bills together and continue to authorize the use of these less-lethal alternatives in their departments.”