State law changes will affect policing in Lake Forest Park

Monday, August 9, 2021

LFP Police Chief Mike Harden. The police
department will present its training to the
City Council at the council’s regular business
meeting on Thursday, August 12 at 7pm
By Tracy Furutani

“We will still provide service,” said Lake Forest Park Police Department Chief Mike Harden. “[However], it will look different.”

The Washington State Legislature passed a series of police reform bills in this year’s now-concluded legislative session, and they are beginning to take effect. 

Specifically, House Bills 1054 and 1310 change the threshold at which law enforcement officers may take certain actions, such as pursuing suspects and using physical force.

Many of the changes in tactics specified in the new laws are already policy within the LFP PD. 

“We have no ‘no-knock’ warrants,” said Operations Lieutenant Rhonda Lehman, referring to the practice of police entering a home without first knocking and identifying themselves. 

Similarly, “we don’t use tear gas,” she said. One of the new laws restricts the use of tear gas to riots, hostage situations and barricaded subjects.

However, some other changes in the laws will make it “harder for victims to get help,” said Lehman. “It makes it easier for the criminal to escape.” Because the standard for using physical force to detain a suspect is higher, the LFP PD will err on the side of letting a suspect go, she explained.

Harden gave an example of a hypothetical situation in which a family with a small child is involved in a traffic accident, where the family’s car is struck by a hit-and-run driver and the child is injured. The police are quickly summoned, and one of the parents gives a vehicle description to the responding officer. 

“An officer may attempt to stop the vehicle described, and if they stop, great; if they flee, we may no longer pursue,” said Lehman. “Why didn’t you go after the bad guy?” is the question that will result, said Harden, and the officer will say it is due to the new policies.

State Rep Javier Valdez (D-46)
State Representative Javier Valdez (D-46), whose district includes Lake Forest Park, said in a statement, 

“We all share the goal of keeping everyone safe, whether it’s members of the community or the men and women in law enforcement. There is some confusion about what new police reform laws mean or don’t mean, and a lot of misinformation out there. Nothing in the new state laws prevents police officers from responding to calls to service.”

In Valdez’s view, “House Bill 1310 creates a statewide standard for the use of force. House Bill 1054 bans dangerous police tactics and unnecessary military equipment from being used by law enforcement.” 

And, further, “the state attorney general is working on clearing up any ambiguities and misunderstandings about certain provisions and is developing a model use of force policy. And if there are issues that do need to be clarified with new legislation, I will support those efforts. Such legislation is typical whenever large reforms are passed.”

Some of the changes in the laws and policing policies will have an effect on other first-responder agencies, who rely on police protection while performing their jobs.

The Northshore Fire Department, which serves LFP, is working with other first responders on a “model” procedure to accommodate changes to the laws, according to Deputy Chief of Operations Doug McDonald. “There should be no changes in the level of service we provide,” he said.

Brook Buettner, program manager for
North Sound Response Awareness
De-escalation and Referral (RADAR)
The new laws brought some positive changes to social service providers. House Bill 988, for instance, will establish a single 988 number for suicide prevention next year, said Brook Buettner, the program manager for North Sound Response Awareness De-escalation and Referral (RADAR), a program set up by a consortium of north King County cities to provide services to people undergoing a behavioral health crisis. 

RADAR deploys Navigators, a group of on-call mental health and social workers to bring their services to people experiencing crises.

“I’m proud of north King County doing [this] work before the national movement,” said Buettner. “Navigators are more necessary than ever, especially with these legislative changes.”

The LFP Police Department will present its training to the City Council at the council’s regular business meeting on Thursday, August 12 at 7pm. The public is invited to attend the meeting.


Anonymous,  August 11, 2021 at 1:04 AM  

I wonder why Mr. Valdez, as part of his understanding of the potential poorly crafted law would create, didn't do what many citizens did: talk to street level cops or do a ride along? Had he done these simple things, perhaps he wouldn't have been so hasty to support laws that are already harming the local community.

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