Chelan County Sheriff’s Town Hall on New Policing Laws Draws 2,600 In-Person, Online Attendees
At least five more public meetings are scheduled after 2,600 people watched a Town Hall presentation from the Chelan County Sheriff's Office on controversial new policing laws Monday night.
Almost all of the state's sheriff's signed a letter saying the new laws are too restrictive and hinder them from from doing their jobs.
They're likely the most far police reform laws in the country that were passed by the state's Democratically controlled legislature and signed by a Democratic Governor a year after George Floyd died while in police custody in Minneapolis.
The Town Hall at Grace City Church in Wenatchee featured Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett and three members of his staff.
Burnett said his force has stopped using some enforcement practices because of uncertainty about how to comply with the new laws and the possibility they'll be held legally liable.
"When they started putting our training presentations together for our staff, even then it was pretty impactful, even to the agency heads and to our leaders, said Burnett. "We pulled things way back."
Burnett also used the meeting to criticize state lawmakers who crafted the laws that many officers find too restrictive.
"You're going to hear the sponsors of these bills say 'that's not the intent and law enforcement is pulling way back and they're being way conservative and they're trying to make this a political issue,'" Burnett said "And I'm saying the opposite. They made this the political issue."
At least 1,000 people attended the Town Hall in person while 1,600 viewed viewed the meeting on Facebook Live.
Some of those in attendance said the new laws are unfair to law enforcement officers. "If they go against some of these regulations coming down, then they can be at risk for breaking the law and going to jail, said one woman. "And that's just nuts."
Another person attending the Town Hall said the new laws will have unintended negative consequences. "I know the intent of the bill was to try and address some situations that were in other parts of our country, but it seems like most of the impact will hurt juveniles, state social workers, health care workers."
Supporters of the new laws say the laws bring a needed change to police tactics and use of force, although they admit clarification will be needed.
The new laws address how officers respond to situations, including active crime scenes, welfare checks and mental health crises.
They also ban chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants, and limit the use of tear gas and military equipment.
Burnett and the Chelan County Sheriff's Office are holding two more Town Halls this week, in Cashmere at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Riverside Events Center. and in Entiat at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Chelan County Fire District #8.
Three additional meetings are planned for next week week in Chelan, Leavenworth and Plain.