A Thousand Cuts

In the year 900 in China a new form of execution was established.  Even though it was seldom used, it lasted until 1905.  Now known as “Death by a thousand cuts” it was a combination of torture and execution.  It is also possible to talk about death by a thousand cuts when discussing the idea of creeping normalcy, or the idea that small changes over time seem less dangerous than one large change.  

For example, when a person in business talks about death by a thousand cuts, he or she typically means that something is slowly being destroyed rather than being destroyed all at once.

In some cases, the final result does not even seem objectionable to the injured party.

For police officers and, indeed, for the citizens in general we are seeing this attack on our entire social structure.  Let’s take the concept of police reform as just one example. 

In the 2021 session of the Washington State Legislature a number of bills were passed under the guise of “police reform”. The net effect of these so-called reforms was to fundamentally change law enforcement in Washington State. There were fourteen of these laws passed in 2021.  These laws made Washington more dangerous and put all citizens at risk. 

Taken one at a time and simply reading the bill title they don’t necessarily seem so bad but in totality they destroy the ability of law enforcement to do their job. 

HB 1001, entitled “Establishing a law enforcement professional development outreach grant program,”

HB 1054, entitled “Establishing requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers.” It bans “no knock” warrants, the use of K9 units to apprehend suspects, choke holds and vascular restraints, and limits vehicular pursuit and the use of tear gas and military equipment.

HB 1088, entitled “Concerning potential impeachment disclosures.” This law requires law enforcement agencies to report to prosecutors within 10 days any potentially exculpatory evidence regarding a criminal defendant or if an officer has engaged in misconduct affecting his or her credibility. Prior to hiring an officer with previous law enforcement experience, the agency must ask the officer’s previous employer whether the officer has ever been subject to potential impeachment disclosure.

HB 1089, entitled “Concerning compliance audits of requirements relating to peace officers and law enforcement agencies.” This law requires the State Auditor to determine whether every deadly force investigation is in compliance with laws and regulations.

HB 1140, entitled “Concerning juvenile access to attorneys when contacted by law enforcement.”  It requires that juveniles be given access to an attorney prior to waiver of any constitutional rights.

HB 1223, entitled “Enacting the uniform electronic recordation of custodial interrogations act.” This law, UERCIA (Uniform Electronic Recording of Custodial Interrogations Act) which requires the recording of the entirety of custodial interrogations

HB 1267, entitled “Concerning investigation of potential criminal conduct arising from police use of force, including custodial injuries, and other officer-involved incidents.” This creates a statewide Office of Independent Investigation with the power to investigate any officer’s use of deadly force and to reopen investigations done by other agencies or departments.

HB 1310, entitled “Concerning permissible uses of force by law enforcement and correctional officers.” It limits the use of physical force to the least amount necessary to overcome resistance. It requires the use of de-escalation tactics and that officers leave the area after being called “if there is no threat of imminent harm and no crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed.”

SB 5476, entitled in the engrossed version as “Responding to the State v. Blake decision by addressing justice system responses and behavioral health prevention, treatment, and related services.” This law addresses the Supreme Court’s State v. Blake decision, which found the old simple possession of a controlled substance statute to be unconstitutional as it lacked a mental state element showing the defendant had knowledge of the possession.

SB 5051, entitled “Concerning state oversight and accountability of peace officers and corrections officers.”  Among other reforms the legislation provides a number of grounds requiring the Criminal Justice Training Commission to deny or revoke certification of a peace officer or corrections officer.

SB 5066, entitled “Concerning a peace officer’s duty to intervene.” It requires on-duty officers to end the excessive use of force by another officer and to report it.

SB 5259, entitled “Concerning law enforcement data collection.” It establishes a Statewide Use of Force Data Program Advisory Group under the Attorney General to examine data needs for a statewide use of force data collection and reporting program.

SB 5263, entitled “Concerning defenses in personal injury and wrongful death actions where the person injured or killed was committing a felony.” This law modifies Washington’s felony bar rule for actions “arising out of law enforcement activities resulting in personal injury or death,” requiring law enforcement to prove beyond a reasonable doubt “that the person injured or killed was engaged in the commission of a felony at the time of the occurrence causing the injury or death, the commission of which was a proximate cause of the injury or death.”

SB 5353, entitled “Creating a partnership model that facilitates community engagement with law enforcement.” It directs the State Department of Commerce to create and manage a grant program “to foster community engagement through neighborhood organizing, law enforcement-community partnerships, youth mobilization, and business engagement.”

SB 5051 has seemed to get little attention but it is a very large threat to every police officer.  Essentially this allow the Criminal Justice Training commission to deny or revoke certification of a police officer.  This change empowers the CJTC to initiate independent investigations and to act outside of the wishes of the employing agency.

In the past when discipline was taken against an officer the commission was informed and in those instances where the employing agency thought the misconduct was egregious that agency could request that the CJTC revote the individual’s certification.

This is a serious situation because the same law increased the Commission membership to 21 people all appointed by the Governor.  Under the previous system the officer would have certain protections provided by contract or local civil service regulations.  This bypassed those provisions and subjects the officer to possible political persecution.

The revocation of certification is a really big deal.  It means that the individual can not be employed as a police officer in the state.  Given that employment as such in any jurisdiction anywhere would require a background investigation that would reveal the revocation it effectively means the individual’s career is cancelled.

Anyone who has ever worked as a police officer knows that circumstances can change in a matter of seconds.  A call for service that is mundane and routine can rapidly morph into a life and death event.  When this type of change crosses over to an area that becomes political the pressure to take some action against the officer often becomes overwhelming.  The protection provided by contract and Civil Service rules help to mute that political pressure and insure a fair treatment for the officer.

This law essentially eliminated that protection.  Why anyone would work as a police officer in Washington State under such restrictions is beyond my understanding.

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