On March 17, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed House Bill 2037 into law. Calling it a “clarification,” Inslee signed the bill that walks back a key piece of the Democrat-controlled legislature’s police reform package of bills signed into law less than a year prior. Inslee had called the police reform bills a “moral mandate” when signing them into law in May 2021, in response to the killing of George Floyd in 2020. The Democratic governor signed two other “clarification” bills earlier this month.

In their rush to condemn police officers throughout the state after 2020’s Summer of Love, the legislature and the governor created massive confusion about the practice of policing, making it virtually impossible to distinguish legal policing from excessive force.

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One of the bills passed in 2021, HB 1310, restricted police throughout the state from using “Terry stops.” Activists and reformers believed these temporary detentions, used to secure suspects while investigating possible involvement in crimes, targeted minorities. The AP reported:

Following 2020’s widespread protests for police accountability in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, Washington lawmakers passed an array of reforms covering everything from the background checks officers undergo before they’re hired to the circumstances under which they can be decertified.

Among them was House Bill 1310, which said officers could use force only when they had probable cause to make an arrest or to prevent imminent injury, and that they were required to use appropriate de-escalation tactics if possible.

Police said the measure hindered their response to crime: Often when officers show up at a scene, they need to detain people to figure out if they were involved in a crime. But under House Bill 1310, they couldn’t use force to detain them unless they already had probable cause to arrest them, they said.

Police accountability activists said that was by design. Too often, they argued, officers use force against the wrong people, especially minorities. The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability urged Inslee to veto the measure allowing police to use force to prevent people from fleeing, saying House Bill 1310 was “deliberately written to address discriminatory policing and reduce violence.”

“Police don’t need additional authority to use force,” said Leslie Cushman, of the coalition.

The AP report also soft-peddled two other bills Inslee signed that reversed key parts of the moral mandate:

The bill also addresses another shortcoming identified by police: They noted that while House Bill 1310 restricted when they can use force, it left undefined what “force” is. The measure defines it as any act reasonably likely to cause physical pain, or any act exerted upon a person to compel or gain control of them. It doesn’t include pat-downs or handcuffing a compliant suspect.

Earlier this month Inslee signed two other bills fixing parts of last year’s police reform package. One made clear officers may use force to help detain or transport people in behavioral health crisis, while the other corrected an oversight that seemed to inadvertently prohibit police departments from possessing certain less-lethal weapons.

The “certain less-lethal weapons” restriction prohibited cops from using any firearm larger than .50 caliber, which meant they could not use beanbag shotguns. Another bill ended up prohibiting cops from transporting suspects in a mental health crisis to treatment facilities unless they had committed a crime, meaning fewer people actually got the help they needed.

In typical Democrat fashion, Inslee’s “moral mandate” was haphazard, at best.

Inslee, who allegedly ran for president in the 2020 Democratic primary, bragged about the bills when he signed them in 2021:

Calling it a “moral mandate,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a dozen bills into law on Tuesday that backers hope will improve policing in the state, reduce the use of deadly force and ensure that when deadly encounters do occur, the investigations are thorough and independent.

“These bills are all going to work in coordination with one another to create a system of accountability and integrity stronger than anywhere else in the nation,” Inslee said in remarks before he signed the bills.

The legislature passed the police accountability measures in response to sweeping calls, nationally and locally, to reform policing following the killings of Black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. In Washington, the death of Manuel Ellis at the hands of Tacoma police in March 2020 also galvanized reform efforts.

Washington joins several other states that have passed police reform bills since Floyd’s killing nearly a year ago.

“We knew we had to do something,” said Democratic state Rep. Jesse Johnson, the vice chair of the House Public Safety Committee and sponsor of three of the bills, in a recent interview.

Now, that moral mandate has gone through at least three “clarifications.”

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