New state police reforms change policing in Auburn

The Washington Legislature recently passed several bills governing law enforcement. During the July 12 city council study session, Auburn’s city attorney and police chief updated the council on the new laws and how they will impact Auburn.

“A lot of them are going to have a significant impact on the way we police our communities,” Auburn Police Chief Dan O’Neil said.

Here’s a look at some of the key legislation that impacts policing:

ESHB 1054: Tactics

This bill goes into effect on July 25, 2021. Here’s what the bill does:

• Bans officers from using choke holds and neck restraints.

• Establishes a Criminal Justice Training Commission to establish training and policy on use of police canines.

• Adds restrictions on the use of teargas and bans police use of military equipment.

• Restricts officers’ ability to engage in vehicle pursuits. Police will only be allowed to pursue vehicles if they have probable cause to believe that the driver committed a violent or sexual offense or if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the driver is committing a DUI.

• Impact on Auburn: For non-violent offenses, police will respond to write reports and gather evidence, the department will have to get rid of shotguns because they’re considered to be military equipment.

E2SHB 1310: Use of force

This bill goes into effect on July 25, 2021. Here’s what the bill does:

• Establishes when use of force is permitted.

• Under this bill officers will only be allowed to use force to prevent criminal conduct, when there’s probable cause to make an arrest, affect an arrest, prevent an in-custody escape or in the case of an imminent threat of bodily injury to the officer or another member of the public.

• Officers can only use deadly force to protect against imminent serious physical injury or death.

• When possible officers must use all available de-escalation tactics prior to using any force, some of the de-escalation tactics listed in the bill include taking as much time as is necessary to avoid using force, and leaving the area if there is no threat of imminent harm and no crime has been committed or is being committed or is about to be committed.

• Officers are also required to use the least amount of force possible.

• Impact on Auburn: The bill does not provide additional funding for the Auburn Police Department and could stretch Auburn’s resources thin and slow department response time, City Attorney Kendra Comeau said. Officers may have to walk away from certain situations instead of making a physical arrest, O’Neil said.

ESB 5476: Blake decision

This bill is already in effect. Here’s what the bill does:

• Reduces the charge of knowingly possessing a controlled substance from a felony to a misdemeanor.

• Requires police to refer people who possess controlled substances to assessments and services rather than arresting and taking them to jail for their first two offenses.

• Decriminalizes possession of drug paraphernalia intended for individual use such as pipes and syringes.

• Impact on Auburn: The city will have to develop a system for tracking the number of referrals an individual has. It may increase the amount of discarded drug paraphernalia in the city, Deputy City Attorney Harry Boesche said.

SSB 5066: Duty to intervene

Police departments are required to have a duty to intervene policy by June 1, 2022. Here’s what this bill does:

• Requires police to intervene when they witness another officer using or attempting to use excessive force.

• Officers will have to render aid to anyone injured by use of force as soon as it is safe to do so.

• Requires officers to report any wrongdoing by another officer if they witness or have good reason to believe that officer is doing something wrong.

• If an officer fails to intervene they can be disciplined up to and including suspension and de-certification.

• Impact on Auburn: The Auburn Police Department has had a duty to intervene law similar to the state bill for 10 years.

SHB 1223: Electronic recordation

This bill will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022. Here’s what this bill does:

• Requires officers to electronically record audio or video and audio of all interrogations in relation to a felony offense and interrogations of juveniles.

• Requires recording video and audio of interrogations at the police station or in holding cells and correctional facilities.

• Requires at a minimum recording audio of most other interrogations in which a person might incriminate themselves.

• Impact on Auburn: Police will have to be equipped with body-worn cameras or some other type of recording device, increasing department costs, Comeau said.


After the presentation, Auburn Police Chief O’Neil summed up how the police department is viewing the new laws.

“We’re at a time where our communities are asking for people other than police to show up to non-criminal incidents,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil also addressed some of the situations Auburn police won’t make arrests or respond to going forward.

In cases of property crimes, police may have to walk away from a suspect rather than making an arrest due to the new use of force standards. Auburn police will discontinue their practice of involuntarily committing people to mental health facilities so mental health providers will take over that role, O’Neil said.

Welfare checks that aren’t criminal in nature will be referred to the fire department, O’Neil said. Police also won’t respond to suspicious person calls when no clear crime has taken place. Following the advice of the police department’s insurance provider, officers won’t respond to people who are suicidal unless they present a threat to the people around them. Instead, police will refer the person to mental health services.

“For most misdemeanor crimes, we are not going to make a physical arrest. We are going to complete a report and refer the case to the prosecutor’s office, with the exception of domestic violence and DUI,” O’Neil said.

There’s still a lot of uncertainty regarding the implementation of the laws and potential unintended consequences. However, the city is working to address those issues. You can watch the full city council study session on YouTube.