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New Laws About Public Safety

During the 2021 session, the Washington State Legislature passed quite a few laws relating to public safety and impacting local government law enforcement agencies. This blog summarizes three of these new laws and provides links for four more.

Addressing Use of Force

ESSHB 1310 addressed use of force by law enforcement officers, which includes physical force, deadly force, and the use of less lethal alternatives (e.g., de-escalation tactics). See chapter 10.120 RCW.

The use of deadly force is limited to situations where there is an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer or another person. An officer may use physical force when necessary to protect against criminal conduct where there is probable cause to make an arrest; effect an arrest; prevent an escape; or protect against an imminent threat of bodily injury to the peace officer, another person, or the person against whom force is being used.

ESSHB 1310 made changes to an existing statute addressing law enforcement officer training and added statutes on de-escalation tactics and model policies.

De-escalation Tactics

“Less lethal alternatives” are defined in RCW 10.120.010(2) to include “verbal warnings, de-escalation tactics, conducted energy weapons, devices that deploy oleoresin capsicum, batons, and beanbag rounds.”

De-escalation tactics may include deploying other resources such as a “crisis intervention team” or leaving the area if there is no threat of imminent harm,  or if no crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed.


RCW 43.101.450 is amended to require violence de-escalation training provided by the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (WSCJTC) to be consistent with the new standards.

Model Policies

Under RCW 10.120.030, the Attorney General (AG) is directed to publish model policies on use of force and de-escalation tactics by July 1, 2022. By December 1, 2022, all law enforcement agencies must adopt the AG’s model policy or may adopt policies or standards with additional requirements for de-escalation and greater restrictions on the use of physical and deadly force than those provided in the act. Law enforcement agencies must provide copies of their policies to the AG (see RCW 10.120.030).

Addressing Tactics and Equipment

ESHB 1054 covered several public safety topics and creates chapter 10.116 RCW to address tactics and equipment used by law enforcement.

Military Equipment and Inventory

RCW 10.116.040 prohibits law enforcement agencies from acquiring or using military equipment, including:

(F)irearms and ammunition of .50[mm] caliber or greater, machine guns, armed helicopters, armed or armored drones, armed vessels, armed vehicles, armed aircraft, tanks, long range acoustic hailing devices, rockets, rocket launchers, bayonets, grenades, missiles, directed energy systems, and electromagnetic spectrum weapons.

Additionally, each law enforcement agency was required to create an inventory of its military equipment and to provide this inventory to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASCP) by November 1, 2021. WASPC is required to summarize the inventory information in a report to the governor’s office and the legislature by December 31, 2021. Any law enforcement agency in possession of military equipment must return the equipment to the federal agency from which it was acquired, if applicable, or destroy the equipment by December 31, 2022.

No Chokeholds or Neck Restraints

RCW 10.116.020 prohibits officers from using chokeholds or neck restraints.

Use of Tear Gas

RCW 10.116.030 imposes additional requirements for the authorization and use of “tear gas.”

Pursuit Policy

This law provides a statewide policy for vehicular pursuits. RCW 10.116.060 prohibits police pursuits unless certain requirements are met, including but not limited to “probable cause” for specified violent offenses, “reasonable suspicion” for driving under the influence, and necessity of pursuit.

This statute also requires a balancing of safety risks and supervisory authorization for the pursuit. Authorization requirements depend on the size of the jurisdiction. It is well beyond the scope of this blog to summarize all of the new pursuit requirements in this RCW, so definitely review the actual statutory language and consult with your agency’s legal counsel, as necessary.

Execution of Warrants

An officer may not seek and a court may not issue a so-called “no-knock” warrant. RCW 10.31.040(2) now provides:

An officer may not seek and a court may not issue a search or arrest warrant granting an express exception to the requirement for the officer to provide notice of his or her office and purpose when executing the warrant.

Moving Vehicles

An officer may not fire a weapon upon a moving vehicle unless necessary to protect against an imminent threat of serious physical harm resulting from the driver’s or a passenger’s use of a deadly weapon.

Officer Identification

Law enforcement agencies must adopt policies and procedures so that officers on duty are reasonably identifiable with their name or other information visible on their uniforms.

Canine Teams

The WSCJTC is directed to convene a work group to develop a model policy for the training and use of canine teams. The deadline for publication of this model policy on the WSCJTC website is January 1, 2022.

Creation of the Office of Independent Investigations

ESHB 1267 created the state Office of Independent Investigations (OII) as a limited-authority law enforcement agency within the governor’s office. The OII has jurisdiction to conduct an investigation of incidents involving use of deadly force by law enforcement occurring after July 1, 2022. The OII may also investigate prior incidents if new evidence is brought forth that was not included in the initial investigation. The OII is the lead investigative body for any incidents it selects for investigation. If the OII accepts a case, the investigation must be concluded within 120 days.

Additional Laws

Here are more public safety laws adopted in 2021:

  • SSB 5066: This law imposes a duty to intervene if an officer observes another officer using excessive force. Officers must render aid to persons injured because of use of force at the earliest safe opportunity. In addition, there is a duty to report wrongdoing of another officer. See RCW 10.93.190.
  • SHB 1088: This law requires development of protocol for potential impeachment disclosures about law enforcement officers. See RCW 10.93.180.
  • E2SHB 1089: This law provides for compliance audits by the Office of the State Auditor (SAO) in cooperation with the WSCJTC. See RCW 43.101.460.
  • E2SSB 5259: This law relates to reporting, collecting, and publishing law enforcement data. See chapter 10.118 RCW.

Conclusion and Resources

Laws impacting local government law enforcement and public safety seem to be changing rapidly and may continue to change in the future. Because of this, it is critically important to work closely with your agency’s law enforcement leadership,  legal counsel and the WSCJTC to keep policies and training up to date.

Here is an additional resource from MRSC:

And here are resources offered by WCJTC:

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Linda Gallagher

About Linda Gallagher

Linda Gallagher joined MRSC in 2017. She previously served as a Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney for King County and as an Assistant Attorney General.

Linda’s municipal law experience includes risk management, torts, civil rights, transit, employment, workers compensation, eminent domain, vehicle licensing, law enforcement, corrections, and public health.

She graduated from the University of Washington School of Law.