Use of force policy changes recommended for King County Sheriff’s Office

By Dec. 1, law enforcement agencies must either adopt the model policy or adopt a policy consistent with it.

On Nov. 7, King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO) encouraged the King County Sheriff’s Office to adopt the model use of force policy issued by the office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson earlier this year.

In 2021, the state Legislature passed House Bill 1310, which included a provision instructing the Attorney General to develop a model use of force policy. After extensive input from the community, law enforcement agencies and leaders, oversight entities, and the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, the model policy was released on July 1.

By Dec. 1, law enforcement agencies must either adopt the model policy or adopt a policy consistent with it. If they do not, the agencies need to explain to the AG why they have adopted a different policy.

In its memorandum to King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall, the oversight office recommended “that the Sheriff’s Office adopt the model policy and strengthen it regarding use of force on fleeing persons by making the policy more restrictive.”

The oversight office pointed out that the King County Sheriff’s Office’s current policy allows for officers to use force when a subject is fleeing detainment.

“OLEO is aware that this provision is made legal through RCW 10.120.020 [2022 c 80 §3]. However, the inherent risks of using force on subjects for merely fleeing far outweigh the benefits, particularly when the subjects were stopped for suspicion of low-level, non-violent offenses,” the memo read. “In these cases, the subjects do not pose a significant threat to nearby parties, the deputies who stopped them, nor the community at large. The threat and use of force during these incidents escalates a non-violent situation into one that has potential to result in serious injury.”

The OLEO recommended that the King County Sheriff’s Office change their policy so that use of force is only permitted when the person who is fleeing is suspected of certain serious crimes.

According to OLEO’s memo, the Attorney General’s model policy provides a clearer framework than the King County Sheriff’s Office’s current policy for de-escalation, appropriate levels of force depending on the circumstances, and the exercise of reasonable care.

“The model policy also clarifies a path for deputies to call upon alternative responses to people experiencing behavioral crises, or other nonviolent incidents, that would benefit from a non-law enforcement response,” reads the memo. “OLEO finds value in policies that not only respond to community calls for alternatives to policing, but also in those that relieve the Sheriff’s Office of previously obligatory responses that prevent deputies from responding to higher-priority, explicitly violent calls for service.”