Priorities Include Revising 2021 Reform Laws and Improving Recruitment Rates 

State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Announces Priorities for Legislative Session


The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) released a statement Thursday announcing its priorities for the upcoming state legislative session. 

Three out of its four listed priorities for the 2023 session involve revising police accountability measures passed by the Legislature last year. 

“We believe in balanced public safety laws that support the core functions of government in an environment where the men and women of law enforcement reflect and care for their communities while having the tools to care for victims in their pursuit of justice,” WASPC stated in a written statement. “We encourage bipartisan cooperation to enact laws that protect our communities and get people the help they need. Crime is rising, more people are being victimized and there are not enough resources available to those in need.

The organization, which represents executive and top management personnel from law enforcement agencies statewide, wrote it intends to “work for nonpartisan, constructive reform, and measures to improve public trust and protect victims.”

Elaborating, WASPC wrote, “Public safety laws should support balanced outcomes and help victims of crime, support law enforcement, and hold offenders accountable. Crime doesn't know politics and public safety should not be a partisan issue.”

WASPC added, “Moving forward together, we can refine Washington laws to improve trust, accountability, and transparency. We can bring our communities together and promote the safety of all Washingtonians.” 

Below are WASPC’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session, which begins Jan. 9. 

More information about the association is available at

Drug Laws

Background: The Washington state Supreme Court ruled in February 2021 that the state’s long-standing drug possession law was unconstitutional because it punished those who unknowingly had drugs in their possession. The court’s ruling in the case, State v. Blake, rendered the state’s main drug possession statute (RCW 69.50.4013(1)) null and void and thus decriminalized basic drug possession pending the adoption of a replacement statute. While the original statute classified drug possession as a felony, the Legislature passed a stopgap law during last year’s session that offered offenders treatment for the first two drug possession offenses and charged them with a misdemeanor on the third offense.

Lawmakers plan to act on the issue in the 2023 legislative session, since the stopgap law expires June 1. 

WASPC: ”The effects of the Washington Supreme Court Blake decision and legislative changes to our drug laws tolerated personal drug possession and made harmful and dangerous drugs essentially legal to possess across the state. The legislative response to the Blake decision has made it far easier for those who sell drugs to prey on victims and has brought chaos to public spaces. Drug related crime, such as retail theft, has increased greatly. We support policies that provide incentives to encourage drug rehabilitation and treatment while holding those who are in unlawful possession of drugs accountable in a compassionate manner. We must break the cycle of drug abuse, provide help to individuals in need, and take back our public spaces for our community and our businesses. Behavioral and mental health services need to be strengthened with resources to hire more people who can address this crisis.”


Background: Among the 11 police accountability bills passed by the state Legislature in 2021 was a law, now known as RCW 10.116.060, that restricted the conditions in which an officer can engage in a vehicular pursuit. The intent behind the law was to limit the number of deaths that happen during police pursuits. Under the law, an officer can pursue a suspect if the officer has probable cause the suspect committed a violent or sexual crime or is driving under the influence. Since the law went into effect over the summer, local law enforcement agencies have reported an increase in subjects driving recklessly to elude officers. 

WASPC: “Law enforcement will be the first to recognize that car chase pursuits can be dangerous. Recent policies restricting pursuits made driving a car a ‘get out of jail free’ card and creates conditions that empower criminals, jeopardize public safety, and diminishes the rule of law in Washington. We can fix the pursuit law to fall in line with Washington state’s duty of care standards and enable more discretion in engaging in police vehicle pursuits in a manner that offers a balance between the risk of the pursuit versus the reasons(s) for the pursuit. Severe prohibitions on vehicular pursuits need to be reversed. When not arresting the suspect outweighs the risk of the pursuit, officers need the option to pursue criminals to ensure public safety. We can’t allow offenders the advantage over victims and to just drive away.” 

Recruitment and Retention

Background: Many police chiefs and sheriffs across the country report staffing levels have not rebounded from a wave of resignations that started with the pandemic and the 2020 unrest, according to reporting by the New York Times. The Seattle Police Department reported a 30-year low in officers in July 2022 and locally, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, the Centralia Police Department and the Chehalis Police Department have all reported staffing shortages in recent years. 

WASPC: “For more than a dozen years, Washington has had the fewest law enforcement officers per capita, ranking 51st in the nation. In 2021, that ratio declined even further. We need to act quickly to catch up with the growth of our region. Today, our state has 500 fewer officers than it did a year ago. That affects prevention and response time to 911 calls and increases stress on our remaining police officers. De-escalation, proactive policing, and supervision require resources to ‘team up and slow down.’ Every community deserves a public safety agency that is well-trained, well-equipped, and well-staffed to deliver the best public service. Our communities need funds to recruit and retain additional officers. We support effective solutions that will provide local governments with more resources for criminal justice services in ways that won’t raise existing taxes.” 

Juvenile Justice

Background: Another police reform law passed by the Legislature in 2021, RCW 13.40.740, requires law enforcement to connect a youth 18 years old or younger with a lawyer before the youth is questioned by law enforcement in connection with a crime, and when law enforcement detain a youth or request that the youth consent to a search of their person or property. The youth’s parents cannot waive this right on the youth’s behalf. The law allows law enforcement to speak with youth without connecting them to legal counsel if law enforcement believe the youth is a trafficking victim or if the youth’s life is in imminent danger. 

WASPC: “Kids should have a choice. By removing a parent’s choice to allow their children to talk to the police and removing a juvenile’s choice, the current laws are preventing both from fully taking advantage of circumstances where law enforcement is trying to help. These laws prevent juveniles from talking about an investigation with law enforcement officers, taking away opportunities to declare their innocence or offer helpful information to an investigation. In some cases, these laws have led to more youth being charged with crimes, sometimes tragic outcomes. The current laws direct with whom juveniles can speak without including the choice of them or their parents. This creates an unfortunate outcome with more law enforcement cases filed, increasing the number of juveniles in the criminal justice system. Positive intervention between our communities’ kids and law enforcement is a good, healthy, and helpful tool to reduce crime.”