Tag: Roger Goodman

Legislation Will Allow Police to Use Force to Stop People from Fleeing

Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland) speaks during a meeting of the House Public Safety Committee in February.

By Paul Kiefer

The state Senate voted on Friday to allow police officers to use force to stop people from fleeing when police stop them on suspicion of a crime. The legislation was a sticking point in the legislature’s efforts to revisit and refine a set of sweeping police reform bills that passed last year, including a rule that officers can only use force when they have probable cause to make an arrest.

This year’s bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland) drew criticism from national police accountability organizations and split the Senate Democratic caucus. Some police accountability advocates argued the bill gives police permission to use force in situations that don’t call for it.

Goodman initially introduced the bill in response to pressure from law enforcement agencies around the state, who argued that last year’s reforms, which required officers to have probable cause to make an arrest before using force, unintentionally limited police officers’ ability to stop and question people while allowing suspects to simply run away from police when stopped for questioning.

In crafting this year’s bill, lawmakers had to step carefully around a 1968 US Supreme Court decision, Terry v. Ohio, in which the court ruled that while police can detain someone based on suspicion alone, they can’t use force during such stops. The bill specifically focused on the right for police force to stop someone from walking away from officers during a stop, which law enforcement groups argued would not run afoul of the ruling.

“This law gives officers more leeway to harm people, and it makes it harder to hold them accountable when they do escalate an encounter.”—Enoka Herat, ACLU of Washington

Steve Strachan, director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, told PubliCola that so-called “investigative stops” usually end with officers letting a suspect walk away. “Most investigative stops I’ve done in my law enforcement career have ended with, ‘thank you, I appreciate the information and you’re free to go,” he said.

Since the legislature adopted stricter rules for when police can use force in 2021, Strachan added, officers have “felt unsure of what to do if the person they’re trying to talk to—a person who may have been involved in a domestic violence incident, for example—starts walking away.” As a result, Strachan said, officers have increasingly opted not to stop people who attempt to flee questioning.

There is no statewide data to demonstrate that pattern, and while Seattle Police Department data shows that officers made fewer investigative stops in the six months after the 2021 rules took effect than in the previous six months, that decline began at the start of the pandemic, during which SPD has seen hundreds of its officers retire or transfer to other law enforcement agencies.

In Strachan’s view, Goodman’s bill was an attempt to find an “appropriate balance” between enabling police to hold suspects for questioning and prohibiting officers from using excessive force to do so; the bill stipulated that officers could only use “reasonable and proportional” force to stop a person from fleeing from a stop, which Strachan called a “productive guardrail for accountability.”

But civil liberties groups say the new law will enable law enforcement to escalate otherwise minor encounters with civilians, possibly with deadly consequences. “There was already case law that would allow officers to use force to stop someone from fleeing if there’s a danger to the officer or the public, like if there’s reason to believe that a person is armed,” said Enoka Herat, the Police Practices and Immigration Counsel at the ACLU of Washington. “But this law opens the door wider than that. … It gives officers more leeway to harm people, and it makes it harder to hold them accountable when they do escalate an encounter.” Continue reading “Legislation Will Allow Police to Use Force to Stop People from Fleeing”

Bill to Allow Police to Use Force Against Fleeing Suspects Could Face Constitutional Challenge

Washington State Capitol (Flickr: SounderBruce)

By Paul Kiefer

Responding to pressure from law enforcement agencies, state lawmakers introduced a bill last week that would allow police officers to use force to stop people from fleeing when police detain them on suspicion of a crime. Currently, police can only use force when they have enough evidence to arrest a person.

During a public hearing Tuesday, dozens of commenters, including local and national police accountability advocates, testified against the bill, arguing that it would escalate otherwise minor confrontations between police and civilians. The bill’s supporters, most of them police, argue that the change is necessary to prevent criminal suspects from running away from police with impunity. Looming over the debate, however, is a 1968 US Supreme Court decision that could be the largest obstacle to the bill’s passage and, if it becomes law, spark a new fight over the constitutional limits on use of force by police.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland), would have two key effects. First, it would define “physical force” in state law for the first time, a change supported by both police accountability advocates and police themselves, as well as the state attorney general’s office. Second, and more controversially, the bill would allow police to use force when someone runs away from a so-called “investigative detention,” a type of police stop that only requires an officer to suspect a person of a crime, a lower standard than having probable cause for arrest.

The bill is part of a broader effort by Goodman and other Democratic lawmakers to revisit and refine a set of sweeping police reform bills that passed in 2021. This year’s bills, which also includes a proposal to allow officers to use force to detain people for involuntary mental health treatment, are a response to a year’s worth of backlash from law enforcement and Republican lawmakers, who claim the reforms have emboldened criminals and hamstrung police. The most controversial of last year’s police reform laws outlined a strict standard for when police can use force, allowing force only when officers have probable cause to make an arrest or when necessary to prevent a serious physical injury to themselves or another person.

“We know people of color and young people are more likely to be stopped, and we know they’re more likely to run away, even when they haven’t done anything, because they are intimidated by police officers.”—Enoka Herat, ACLU of Washington

Goodman’s proposal to allow police to use force to stop someone from running away from an investigative stop wouldn’t restore a power that police had before 2021. Instead, it would allow police to use “reasonable” force in an entirely new context after attempts to de-escalate a situation have failed. “Irrespective of the situation, police cannot use excessive force,” Goodman said. “That isn’t changing.”

Police accountability advocates, however, say allowing police to use force to stop someone from running away from an investigative stop is a recipe for trouble. “Hinging the law on flight from a stop is especially problematic,” said Enoka Herat, a police policy specialist with the ACLU of Washington, “because we know who it would harm. We know people of color and young people are more likely to be stopped, and we know they’re more likely to run away, even when they haven’t done anything, because they are intimidated by police officers.” Herat also warned that the bill might give officers too much leeway to decide what counts as “fleeing,” making it difficult for civilians to successfully sue officers for using force inappropriately.

Goodman sees his proposal as a middle ground between protecting civilians and allowing police to enforce the law. He argues that since state law still allows police officers to use force to arrest someone for obstruction of justice, a crime that can include running away from an investigative stop, his proposal would make it possible for fleeing suspect to avoid adding an arrest for obstruction to their record, if police decide they did not commit any crime.

Brian Smith, the Chief of the Port Angeles Police Department, also testified on Tuesday that Goodman’s bill could help resolve the “angst and confusion” that has made some officers unwilling to arrest suspects for obstruction when they try to flee a stop; officers would more frequently prevent people from running away from stops, he said, if they could use force more freely. Continue reading “Bill to Allow Police to Use Force Against Fleeing Suspects Could Face Constitutional Challenge”

State Legislation Could Improve Daunting Protection Order Process

(Source: King County Superior Court)

By Paul Kiefer

Brenda recognized the sound of her daughter’s abuser’s truck as he sped past their small family home on a residential street in Tacoma. When he reached the end of the block, he turned around and did it again. Brenda opened the curtains to watch him pass. “He slowed down,” she recalled, “and he stared at me.”

This was far from Brenda’s first run-in with the man who has tormented her daughter for more than a year. But after his harassment forced her daughter to move back home—he fired a flare gun into one apartment where she lived and tore the door off another—Brenda decided it was time to request a protection order from a court.

A civil protection order temporarily forbids an abuser from contacting or following their victim; if the abuser violates the order, they could face fines or jail time.  If a prosecutor chooses not to file charges against an abuser or if the victim decides not to file criminal charges, the victim can turn to a civil court as an alternative source of relief. Courts in Washington can issue six kinds of civil protection orders, each geared toward different types of abuse or harassment.

The harassment had been too overwhelming for her daughter to request a protection order on her own; once the abuser began to harass and intimidate her entire family, Brenda saw an opportunity to ask a court for help. For Brenda, an anti-harassment order was the only option: Because the abuser was her daughter’s former partner, not her own, Brenda couldn’t request a domestic violence protection order. Most civil protection orders are short-term; in some cases, people experiencing abuse can petition for the orders to be effective for a year or longer.

But in counties across Washington, victims of harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence have to navigate a disorienting—and disheartening—bureaucratic maze to receive a protection order. For Brenda, who owns a car, works from home, and could afford the $90 filing fee, the process was still disorienting and time-consuming, though she ultimately received a two-year protection order. For many other people who have experienced domestic violence and their families in Washington, the barriers to filing a protection order have been insurmountable.

“I’ve been at hearings where victims had to stand three to five feet away from someone who may have been trying to kill them for years,” Maria Pintar, a former legal advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, said.

These barriers primarily impact women: nationally, women are roughly twice as likely as men to experience intimate partner violence, and more than twice as likely to experience stalking; the vast majority of abusers are men. Low-income women, Indigenous women and women born outside of the United States are particularly vulnerable to all forms of harassment and abuse, and the same groups also face the most significant barriers to accessing civil protection orders.

Lawmakers in the Washington State Senate are considering a bill that many survivors and advocates hope could remedy some of the longstanding flaws in the civil protection order system. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45, Kirkland) and Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-45), would streamline the process for courts to consider and grant protection orders. “At its core,” Goodman told PubliCola, “this is about improving access to justice.”

Goodman argues that the proposed law would address an array of obstacles to protection orders simultaneously. If passed, the bill would replace the web of state laws that currently govern the civil protection order process with a single law that standardizes not only the procedures for petitioning a court for a protection order, but the paperwork itself: Goodman described a “master petition” that would lighten the workload for petitioners.

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Currently, each type of protection order is governed by separate state laws; those laws determine how a victim can petition for a protection order, the court in which they file the petition—either district or superior court—and how courts can modify, extend or terminate protection orders, among other details. The quantity and type of evidence needed for each type of protection order also varies: someone petitioning for a sexual assault protection order would need to divulge the details of the assault, while a person seeking an anti-harassment order does not need to provide a comparable amount of personal information.

Before the pandemic, people seeking domestic violence protection orders in King County faced an uphill battle. “There are only two [superior] courthouses in King County—the thirteenth largest county in the country,” said Mary Ellen Stone, the director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center. “Someone might need to take two buses to get to court. It has to be easier than that.” For people in rural counties without a car or reliable public transit, traveling to and from a county courthouse could verge on impossible. Continue reading “State Legislation Could Improve Daunting Protection Order Process”