On Tuesday, Lewis County Sheriff Rob Snaza published a list of policing tactics that have been limited or banned under the state’s police accountability laws, along with the department’s history with those tactics and how its policies have changed to comply with the new legislation.
Snaza has publicly spoken out against the 12 police accountability bills that were passed in the state Legislature last session, specifically chastising House Bills 1310 and 1054, which mitigate excessive use of force and establish requirements for tactics and equipment used by peace officers, respectively. Both laws took effect on July 15.
Snaza’s recent news release addresses tactics that have been limited or banned under HB 1054.
“Some of these tactics have seldom been, if ever, used by the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO). However, others are tactics that we have trained for and used, when necessary, as a specific situation would reasonably dictate,” said Snaza in the news release.
Below is a list of the tactics and equipment affected by HB 1054, and Snaza’s comments on the LCSO’s history with those tactics and their permitted usage under the new law.
Peace officers are not allowed to use chokeholds or neck restraints, defined as tactics in which pressure is applied to the neck for the purpose of restricting blood flow, on another person.
“While LCSO deputies have been trained on the use of this restraint method (not chokeholds), they have been seldom used and moving forward, based on this new legislation, will not be used,” Snaza said.
No-knock warrants, defined as search warrants authorizing peace officers to enter certain premises without first announcing their presence, identifying themselves and stating their purpose, are prohibited. Peace officers may only break into a residence, building or any other enclosure to make an arrest if the officer previously gave notice of their office and purpose and they were refused admittance.
“As anecdotal information, the LCSO has not served a no-knock warrant during my time as elected sheriff,” Snaza said.
Law enforcement cannot deploy tear gas unless its use is authorized by the county’s highest elected official, and they are only allowed to authorize its use if it’s deemed “necessary to alleviate the present risk of serious harm” posed by a riot, a barricaded subject or a hostage situation. All other alternatives must be exhausted before tear gas can be authorized, and all subjects have to be given “sufficient time and space” to comply with officer’s directives before tear gas can be deployed.
“Tear gas is a tool that has been used by law enforcement across the county, when necessary, to manage crowds that are creating public safety risks. Fortunately, its use in Lewis County for these reasons has not been necessary while I’ve been sheriff,” Snaza said.
The sheriff’s office and the Board of County Commissioners are currently seeking clarification from the state Attorney General’s Office regarding which elected officials can authorize the use of tear gas.
Law enforcement is not allowed to acquire or use “any military-type equipment,” specifically, firearms and ammunition of .50 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.
“LCSO previously used 12-gauge shotguns and 40 mm launchers for deployment of less lethal munitions, such as bean bags. By definition, these firearms/launchers are greater than .50 caliber and are therefore specifically prohibited for use by law enforcement. As such, our deputies no longer have these tools at their disposal,” said Snaza. “Because of these restrictions, we are researching other equipment options to aid our deputies in community safety services while complying with the specific legislative restrictions.”
Lawmakers have previously stated that a discrepancy between the reform laws regarding the use of large-gauge non-lethal munitions, such as bean bags, will be addressed in the upcoming legislative session.
Vehicular pursuits are allowed if there is probable cause to believe a person in the vehicle has committed a violent or sex offense, or if there is reasonable suspicion that someone in the vehicle is driving under the influence. The subject must also be deemed an “imminent threat” to the safety of others, and the safety risk of failing to apprehend or identify the subject must be greater than the safety risk posed by a vehicle pursuit.
“LCSO has always had a policy allowing for vehicular pursuits, but only under certain circumstances, and deputies had engaged in justified vehicle pursuits several times each year,” Snaza said. “Under the previous law, law enforcement could have pursued individuals suspected of committing any serious crime (for example stolen vehicles), even if probable cause had yet to be established. Under the new law, such pursuits will no longer be allowed.”
Dialogue With Public
“As stated in previous releases, we look forward to continued open dialogue with community members about the new laws as they are implemented, along with working in partnerships to discover innovative ways within the confines of these new laws to address public safety concerns,” said Snaza in the news release. “We thank you for your interest and continued support, and please do not hesitate to inquire about these changes, and/or future legislative adjustments or clarifications that come about, or any other aspect of the services we provide.”
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office can be contacted at 360-748-9286. More information can be found online at www.lewiscountywa.gov/sheriff.