An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Washington AG's Office Clarifies Part Of New Police Reform Laws

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Spokane advocates for police reform on Thursday responded to law enforcement pushback against new use of force laws. They say new state laws do not prohibit officers from responding to calls that involve people with mental health crises. They offered new legal guidance from the state.

At a press conference, Kurtis Robinson from I Did the Time revealed that two lawyers in the Washington attorney general’s office this week wrote a letter that interpreted  concerns about police reform bill 1310. That was one of several reform bills approved this year by the legislature.
“Nothing in the new law prevents officers from responding to community caretaking calls or calls for assistance with a mental health crisis. Police can show up to assist designated crisis responders and other behavioral health calls," said Robinson, reading from the letter from the AG's office.
That was one of the points raised by eastern Washington police chiefs and sheriffs during a press conference two weeks ago. They said ambiguities in the new laws may lead to changes in the way they respond in these cases. They said tightening the standard that governs when they can detain someone on a call may, in some cases, lead to criminals walking away.
The advocates say they’re confident the new laws will reduce the amount of violence perpetuated by police officers. Debbie Novak says the law enforcement rhetoric is overblown. Her son David was shot and killed by a Spokane Police officer at his home in early 2019. The officer mistakenly thought Novak was carrying a gun.

"As for the comments that law enforcement won’t be able to do their jobs, change is hard, but all professions have change and this is change that is way overdue and that will save lives on both sides of the issue. Embrace it and let’s stop with the sky is falling mentality. The sky is not falling," Debbie Novak said.

Prosecutor Larry Haskell declined to file charges against the officer who shot David Novak.

City Council President Breean Beggs urged the advocates to give officers some grace as they work through the changes.