Sheriff Chuck Atkins issues statement about CCSO’s review and implementation of Washington state 2021 police reform legislation

Members of the Washington State Legislature passed a package of police reforms in April, the majority of which go into effect on Sunday (July 25)

On Thursday, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins issued a detailed statement in response to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office review and implementation of Washington state’s 2021 police reform legislation.

Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins issued a detailed statement in response to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office review and implementation of Washington state’s 2021 police reform legislation.
Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins

Here is the full text of Sheriff Atkins’ statement:

The Washington State Legislature has completed in April the most significant package of police reforms in our history of current law enforcement. A majority of these laws come into effect on Sun., July 25, 2021. These new laws were not passed by a vote of the people, but by legislators who to varying degrees did not constructively collaborate with various law enforcement groups during the legislative process. I remain concerned that language in the new laws that appears reasonable on its face, and could make sense to the average person, is problematic for the Clark County Sheriff’s Office. In addition, these reforms create challenges for our governmental partners and for citizens in ways that we will have to mitigate the best that the law allows.

Our concern is that the new legislation will have some unintentional consequences that could put the public and police officers in jeopardy. I expect that people could see a reduced police response and extended investigations as a result. I expect that despite our best efforts to the contrary, Clark County could be on a trajectory now to see the same type of increased crime and violence that larger cities are experiencing – elsewhere in Washington, Oregon, and across the country. 

  • The Legislature has made clear it’s intention to reduce police contacts and police presence and therefore reduce police use of force. This tactic will be successful, but it comes with a cost.
  • The Legislature has created a new “duty to leave the scene” for law enforcement officers. In the absence of a crime or an imminent threat of death or substantial bodily harm, law enforcement officers have a duty to leave the scene. HB 1310
  • As of July 25, the legislature has changed long standing state laws, based upon common law throughout the country, on when and under what circumstances it is lawful to use force. The new laws prohibit the use of force in any circumstance otherwise – making such use of force unlawful

If a law enforcement officer puts hands on someone to restrain them even slightly, this is a “use of force.” Prior to this new law, an officer who was able to articulate reasonable suspicion of a crime was authorized by law to use “objectively reasonable” force (as established by federal law and the US Supreme Court) as necessary to detain the person until it could be determined if they had committed a crime.

  • From a practical standpoint, the former law gave deputies the authority to detain someone, and use force if necessary to temporarily detain them, based upon them matching the description of a criminal leaving the scene of a crime, at least until deputies could arrive and help determine if there had been a crime, and if it was probable that the person detained had committed that crime. 
    • For example, as law enforcement responds to an armed robbery at a convenience store. A subject matching the description of the robbery suspect is seen running away as deputies are arriving. We no longer have the authority to physically stop and detain (if they resist) that individual under these new reforms. We now need enough information (probable cause to make an arrest) to detain the suspect using force (grabbing, holding, etc.) and stop him.
  • As a result, the very basic aspects of how law enforcement conducts itself is changing, and a paradigm shift must take place in the process. This includes those in law enforcement, as well as those governmental and community service groups who partner with law enforcement, and those who receive the services provided by law enforcement. That is all changing, rapidly.
  • The governmental and community service groups include 911 dispatchers, fire departments, emergency medical services, child protective services, adult protective services, community mental health advocates, and homeless outreach services among many others.
  • Law enforcement, over time, has become the default for almost every “emergency problem” in our community. As I have often said, “If you’re not on fire or bleeding…it becomes a law enforcement problem.” This was neither sought after nor desired, and police response and jail booking became the default for dealing with a wide variety of behaviors that at their core were not crimes or criminal conduct. This particularly relates to people experiencing substance use issues, and mental crisis. RCW 71.05.455
  • Those encounters routinely involved the potential of varying levels of use of force, either to get the person to leave a place of business where they were not wanted, or to get them into health services. It is now unlawful to use force on such a person for which there is not probable cause that they have committed a crime or are an “imminent threat” of causing death or substantial bodily harm to another.
  • “Imminent threat of serious physical injury or death” means that, based on the totality of the circumstances, it is objectively reasonable to believe that a person has the present and apparent      ability, opportunity, and intent to immediately cause death or serious bodily injury to the peace officer or another person. 
  • The new law does not allow for use of force for enforcing civil orders for taking persons into custody for their health or welfare, for example. 
  • The terminology of “Use of force” is typically associated with lethal, or deadly force. Use of force can also be forcing someone onto a gurney to be transported to a hospital, mental health, or substance use treatment center.
  • Forcing a runaway child into a patrol car to be returned home, or to a hospital, or other treatment center.
  • These are examples where it is unlawful for law enforcement officers to use force.
  • Law enforcement officers determined to have used force unlawfully can now be de-certified by the state, absent the involvement of their Police Chief or Sheriff. 
  • If police officers have a duty to leave the scene, absent a crime, or imminent threat of death or substantial bodily injury – then police administrators, supervisors and dispatchers must seriously consider whether it is appropriate to send a police officer to such a call. A police officer who remains on-scene of a call, absent a crime or threat of imminent death or substantial bodily injury, is violating the law and is subject to being decertified by the state.
  • New laws establish criteria for mandatory and discretionary de-certification and suspension of peace officers (and corrections officers) for what we consider to be the potential of errors in judgement, and mistakes, as opposed to intentional bad faith acts, decisions, or intentional excessive use of force. 
  • Several police agencies in the state that adopted policies regarding the new law, have already reported numerous incidents indicating an inability to provide services to those on drugs or in mental crisis, and reduced public safety, because of the new law.
  • In some instances, police are being called back to a scene, perhaps repeatedly, for their not having had the lawful authority to resolve the situation the first time – delivering the person in crisis to treatment for example, because it’s unlawful to use force for such a purpose under the new law.
  • This creates a drain on already limited resources. As an anti-law enforcement sentiment has swept the country, law enforcement officers are leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers, many of them retiring early, or just going and getting new jobs, often at the urging of their spouses or significant others. This has occurred with Clark County deputies.

Our agency, like many across the country and the state, are at critically low staffing shortages already, and having difficulty recruiting new hires as it was. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs recently distributed a report reflecting that Washington state is 51st out of 50 states (when you include Washington DC) in the staffing metric of officers-per-thousand residents. Clark County is the lowest in the state of Washington at .65 officer-per-thousand. 

This staffing shortage may be further exacerbated by the new “Duty of Care” doctrine created with the policing reform laws. This creates a higher standard of avoiding the use of force, in part by requiring deputies to request back-up deputies in effort to minimize the need for use of force. This will likely result in more deputies attending to fewer calls. Doing so reduces further the number of available deputies to respond to other calls, while at the same time angering some in the community who will object to an increased number of deputies as a “show of force.”

Resulting changes to how the Clark County Sheriff’s Office operates:

  • Call response: If there is no outward appearance of a crime, and no threat of “imminent” harm, supervisors/sergeants must consider the totality of circumstances prior to allowing units to respond. Calls which historically included a police response, but may not any longer include people in mental crisis, suicidal individuals, Involuntary Treatment Act/Mental Health Pickups, runaways, civil standbys, evictions, parenting plan transfers, assisting fire/ems with resistance of struggling/resistive patients, etc. These are all examples where there is no crime, and typically no threat of “imminent harm of death or substantial bodily harm.” For example, RCW 71.05.455 states, “…law enforcement officers are not mental health professionals. It is the intent of the legislature that mental health incidents are addressed by mental health professionals.” The Legislature’s intent is very clear. They do not want law enforcement officers present at non-criminal events.

For example, a person in mental crisis, shouting on a street corner, even if openly waving a stick at the air is not committing a crime. They do not represent a threat of “imminent” harm of death or substantial bodily injury, in the legal sense as defined by the law.

  • Sergeants will need to continuously evaluate what their deputies should/should not respond to, if the matter is not criminal, and there is no threat of imminent harm, the new law requires the deputy to leave the scene. 
  • This significantly impacts “community caretaking” efforts that our deputies have engaged in for decades. We will work diligently at identifying alternate resources for people calling for assistance in such circumstances, trying to steer them to help where it may be otherwise available.
  • We will also look to handle more calls by phone, which means people will not see deputies responding in person as often as they may be accustomed.

Clark County Sheriff’s deputies have a long history of routinely and repeatedly putting their lives on the line, literally running into buildings, business, or other places upon hearing gunshots, or believing that a husband is trying to kill his wife, or that an armed murder suspect is hiding inside. We have a long history of protecting and safeguarding ALL of our community members in this way, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference or any other characteristic. We have and do risk our lives for the community, much more frequently than what most people can imagine.

Law Enforcement is still a NOBLE profession. Detractors have painted the industry with a very broad brush, seeking to vilify each and every police officer/deputy – regardless of individual gender, race, honesty, integrity, courage, heroism or decades of commendable service. We recognize most of our citizens still support us and how we serve them. Our MISSION has not changed – “to protect and safeguard the community.” We will continue to perform our duties with pride, courage, and diligence; free of bias or discrimination – but our operational procedures MUST change – as dictated by the legislature. We will continue to adjust our operational procedures in the weeks and months to come as we gain greater insight and understanding into the expectations of us from our community, the Courts, the Legislature, and our governmental business partners.

Chuck Atkins
Clark County Sheriff

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Steven Dobbs
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Steven Dobbs
2 months ago

This is an absolute travesty to citizens in Washington. Please don’t get mad at Law Enforcement for being able to do less; votes matter.

Keith miller
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Keith miller
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven Dobbs

Chuck has been tagged as a liberal by his Co workers. Chuck will go along with Olympias orders as a good little solder would. Don’t expect anything more from Chuck than what he is told by the politicians.

Ron
Guest
Ron
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith miller

Here’s a fact for ya, skippy. It is law enforcements job to enforce the laws as written. They don’t get to pick and choose. If, as it is clearly stated in his statement, they violate the new laws, they can lose their certification. Do you want that? Are you willing to step up and be a deputy to fill that lost spot? I didn’t think so.

Last edited 2 months ago by Ron
Keith miller
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Keith miller
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

The legislatures had a secrete session not witnessed by the public and were kept out of the capital. Two were arrested for attempting to hold our legislatures accountable. The capital was surrounded by state police and national guard. Tell me again how we the people are represented. Do your homework.Crime will go up and the law of the land is not being inforced. The sherif has more power than the governor. Chuck will lay down and do nothing. So sad.

Ron
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Ron
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith miller

Once again for the slow folks in the audience. Law enforcement has no choice. Yes these laws are stupid. Take it up with the law makers, not law enforcement.

Keith miller
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Keith miller
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

So, let’s think about this. The company servicing the voting machins lost there verification to certify the machines for a vote in 2017. Officials are “elected” to the senate. The govener sends the state police and the national guard to the capital to prevent admittance of the people to the capital. The legislature ties the hands of the police with out the vote of the people. Chuck goes along with the tyrannical laws not protecting the citizens. What could go wrong..

Ron
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Ron
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith miller

Congratulations. Your train has derailed

Keith miller
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Keith miller
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

https://t.me/c/1420443481/23459 Here you can watch the board of voting machine verifiers being questioned by an objective news anchor. It verifies the voting system we have is corrupted. When we as a country loose confidence in the voting system it is the start of a major breakdown in trust. Sorry you are misinformed on the facts, we are being senserd on truthfull media but there are ways to find the facts and educate ourselves. Thank you for your service.

Donald Quarnstrom
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Donald Quarnstrom
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith miller

It verifies nothing, other than you are easily fooled.

BD Barry
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BD Barry
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Not gonna lie Ron I think you sound a little stupid here.

Donald Quarnstrom
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Donald Quarnstrom
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

They can apparently murder at will. Perhaps a law restraining that particular activity. Bet you’d cry over that.

fred
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fred
2 months ago

Yep cant respond until there is a murder and we cant tell if there has been a murder unless we respond the old left wing two step. Your on your own Clark County remember that when you hear someone trying your door knob in the middle of the night.

Ron
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Ron
2 months ago
Reply to  fred

2A supporters have been ready and willing to blow the bad guy away for a long time now. Your chance is coming

Ronald Dunne
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Ronald Dunne
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron

Ron, sounds like you suffer from a recto-cranial inversion. You obviously don’t know what you are talking about when you state that “Second Amendment supporters have been ready and willing to blow the bad guy away”… That is gun control boilerplate language meant to frighten people into being anti gun, and has been for decades. It doesnt fly here, more and more people have been seeing thru the gun control myths and buying their own guns- 8 MILLION so far in 2021. Thank BLM and AntiFa.

Ron
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Ron
2 months ago

I’m sorry. Adults are chatting here. We’ll call you when it’s your turn

Jack Burton
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Jack Burton
2 months ago
Reply to  Keith miller

Tell me again how we the people are represented.”
Here you go: The state legislators and sheriff were elected to their positions by the people. In fact, legislators in the lower house are even called representatives. Perhaps, in addition to these new laws, there should be an additional law requiring a basic understanding of civics to be allowed to comment on government affairs. Just kidding, that would disenfranchise a majority of citizens that feel the need to criticize every decision the government makes.

Donald Quarnstrom
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Donald Quarnstrom
2 months ago
Reply to  Ron

They don’t get to kill without reason, either, Skippy. Sorry.

Ron
Guest
Ron
2 months ago

Your response makes no sense

Ronald Dunne
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Ronald Dunne
1 month ago
Reply to  Ron

Donald makes plenty of sense, Ron.

Jeremy327
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Jeremy327
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven Dobbs

This wasn’t voted by the people the article stated that clearly

Ron
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Ron
2 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy327

It was voted on by the elected representatives of the people. That’s the kind of government we have

Donald Quarnstrom
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Donald Quarnstrom
2 months ago
Reply to  Steven Dobbs

So you’re mad the children of white power lose some power?

Cheri
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Cheri
1 month ago

Actually the polices job just got much easier. Now they can just sit in their patrol car and not respond while people are being robbed and assaulted. Glad you’re happy about that. And if your house is on fire and there is a criminal element in the area the fire fighters will just let your house burn down because they aren’t going to get killed jist to out out a fire. Hopefully nobody is trapped inside. And maybe some junkies won’t get their narcan when they od and more of them will die. Yep, it’s going to be great according to you.

Ronald Dunne
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Ronald Dunne
1 month ago

Thanks for your statement, now we see clearly who and what you are. An anti-social leftist.

Lemont Sanford
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Lemont Sanford
2 months ago

This is disgusting. What has this state turned into exactly. Criminals please come to WA to commit crimes as the police will have no laws to bring you to justice with.

Ron
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Ron
2 months ago
Reply to  Lemont Sanford

Agreed

Donald Quarnstrom
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Donald Quarnstrom
2 months ago
Reply to  Lemont Sanford

Strawman says what?

ADFGVX
Guest
ADFGVX
2 months ago

He said the word “mental” and he’s quoting some medieval asshattery RCW with paragraphs and sections ad nauseam. Abusive conservatorships and guardianships like Britney Spears etc. etc.

Isn’t there a medieval rack at that police station to restrain those cops? You know, like the one they torture suspects on? Or is that in the museum of the state mental hospital in Steilacoom? The one that lost its federal certification and funding? And the new state funded torture chamber, a.k.a. the violent patients unit?

The sheriff CSNW+CRMH are definitely promoting and compelling not only the usual vices of Marijuana, prostitution and gun control, but drugging, mayhem, malicious disfigurement and torture as well, forced sterilization of prostitutes, mental defectives, and other unwanted persons who won’t accept the peace pipe.

steve h
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steve h
2 months ago

Where is the system of mental health professionals that will respond to calls with that need?

Lisa Gooch
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Lisa Gooch
2 months ago

God help this country.

Will
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Will
2 months ago

This statement is dripping with falsehoods. They refused to participate in community partner and think tanks over the past year. Other law enforcement agencies did and are taking a different view of the law. The last meeting his deputies attended made it clear they don’t want to work with mental health professionals to de-escalate a situation. Instead, as his deputies stated in their final meeting they attended is if you call us we are coming with our guns a blazing. Bottom line is they just want to take people suffering from mental health issues- out! He’s pissed at the law and is crying in his milk and taking his ball and going home.

Amanda
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Amanda
2 months ago

So what it boils down to is that citizens need to lock and load at all times! And if you need to hide a body, plant endangered plants on top of the grave so it can’t be dug up!!! Thank you emperor asshat for giving criminals more rights!

Mark
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Mark
2 months ago

Good luck. Crime is going to soar!!!
Signed, a former lawman.

Perry e duffy
Guest
Perry e duffy
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark

This kind of experimentation with the way the cops have operated for years will get people killed, you have now taken any decision making ability away from the police….dont believe me?, lets look at this in one or 2 years and see if i was right…

fred
Guest
fred
2 months ago

No one in Vancouver or Clark county are safe from murder or crime thanks to the left leaning policies of Mayor Anne McEnerny and her staff and council of social justice misfits.

Ron
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Ron
2 months ago
Reply to  fred

How is the city council in any way responsible for the state lawmakers new law enforcement bill?

Anne
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Anne
2 months ago

Utterly ridiculous……we need law officers and they need to be able to their job. Believe me I will work to find out the legislators who did this and I will work to see that they are not reelected. They don’t deserve that power. I would be willing to bet they would not be happy if they needed help from police and because of their votes the police couldn’t help them

Christopher
Guest
2 months ago

With this reform, not just with Washington but all across this country.. Why have a police force in the first place?.. Lets make it the wild wild west and just have a gay old time killing one another?

Jeff Mayer
Guest
Jeff Mayer
1 month ago

Unbelievable! Do we need to have a first responder, mental health care worker or medical response team injured or killed before we realize how poor this law is. The criminal has more rights than law enforcement. The folks making these rules should have to perform the duties of law enforcement and see how long they last. Criminals can use excessive force but not law enforcement! Really because of a few bad apples let’s punish all. B.S

Eric
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Eric
1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff Mayer

You forget the rest of that quote, “A few bad apples…. SPOIL THE WHOLE BUNCH.”

Clay Rost
Guest
Clay Rost
1 month ago

This statement us more about how atkins is choosing to interpret the new laws to fit an obstructionist narrative.
The police are refusing to enforce laws broken in front of them to blame the changes, not because of anything actually in the new laws. This has been an escalating issue over the last year with police resistant to any accountability.

Last edited 1 month ago by Clay Rost
Sherri
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Sherri
1 month ago

I have read other counties interruptation of the law legislation and very confused how it differs so much from county to county. I don’t think this discussion is over and needs to be adjusted still.

Jack Rookhuyzen
Guest
Jack Rookhuyzen
1 month ago

What a bunch of B.S. More laws written by  bureaucrats that couldn’t tie their own shoe without help

Herm
Guest
Herm
1 month ago

Time to turn Washington Red! These liberal lunatics hate police and love the homeless!

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