Longview senator among lawmakers calling for special session to fix law enforcement legislation
OLYMPIA – An incident in Longview Wednesday demonstrates why changes are needed pronto to new laws restricting police weapons and tactics, says Sen. Jeff Wilson.
In a dangerous confrontation with a suspect holed up in a house, the local SWAT team was forced to leave their bean-bag shooters and gas launchers behind. Officers wound up throwing rocks.
“The new law forced the police to junk the playbook for confrontations like these, and put them at great risk,” said Wilson, R-Longview. “When we reduce the police to throwing rocks, it’s only a matter of time before this politically correct lunacy gets someone killed.”
Wilson is among many Republican lawmakers calling for a special legislative session to make immediate fixes to new laws regulating police conduct. Just two weeks after the new laws took effect, law enforcement agencies say they have been forced to let suspects flee. Standard police tactics are now off-limits, and options short of lethal force are sharply restricted.
The new policing laws, favored by Democratic lawmakers during this year’s legislative session, aimed to satisfy complaints from urban activists that police routinely use excessive force. Among other things, the new laws establish new restrictions on the use of force, give the state new authority to regulate local police-department affairs, single out individual officers for lawsuits and criminal penalties, and create an independent-investigations office controlled by the governor to second-guess local investigations into police conduct.
“The basic idea behind this legislation was that if cops aren’t going to jail, there must be something wrong,” Wilson said. “Of course officers who cross the line deserve sanction. But painting all officers with the same brush not only is disrespectful to the dedicated professionals who put their lives on the line every day, it puts them at greater risk of injury and death. What happened in Longview Wednesday underscores the need to fix this problem, and fast.”
In the Longview incident, police cornered an armed suspect in a house and needed to force him outside. But one of the new policing laws prohibits the use of wide-barreled launchers, under the presumption that such tools are “military style” weapons.
“The new law meant they couldn’t fire rubber bullets or bean bags to smash the windows,” Wilson explained. “They couldn’t fire gas canisters through the glass. So they had to throw rocks.
“I am not making this up. They had to look for rocks on the ground and pitch them at the windows.
“I’m glad they had good aim. And once they broke out the windows, they managed to lob in a canister of tear gas. Eventually they drove him outside.
“But I hope everyone understands how dangerous this was. You have to get pretty close to smash a window with a rock. The police knew he was armed with a knife, but imagine what would have happened if he had pulled out a gun. I think we all know what happens when you bring rocks to a gunfight.
“What happened in my hometown is happening in communities across the state. I stood with my fellow Republicans this year in opposing this legislation. Lawmakers need to return to Olympia quickly to fix the problems these new laws are creating, and this time I hope my colleagues will be interested in what law enforcement agencies have to say. We shouldn’t have to wait for tragedy to occur.”