Following a trooper's death, police officers in Washington state have been armed for the first time with information that can warn them how likely a felon might be to resort to violence during a traffic stop.
The state's Department of Corrections conducts a risk assessment at the conclusion of an inmate's sentence. The assessment -- its best guess as to whether he or she will return behind bars after release -- has never been available to officers on the street.
But after Washington State Trooper Tony Radulescu was shot to death on a traffic stop by a felon in February 2012, law enforcement leaders wondered what could be done to better safeguard officers.
Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said while he was reviewing the investigation of Radulescu's death, the idea of empowering officers with the risk assessment "just leapt out at me."
''It's really good information. The Department of Corrections has worked very hard to assess offenders and their risk to reoffend," he said. "It could save an officer's life."
Hauge took the idea to the DOC and the Washington State Patrol, which operates the Washington State Criminal Information Center, or WASIC.
Already, police in Washington have access to whether a person is on probation with DOC. But the risk assessment -- which classifies each offender as "low," ''moderate," ''high nonviolent" and "high violent" -- will provide even better and more specific information. The risk assessment also will come with another new tool: the knowledge of whether a person is being supervised in Washington for a crime in another state.
Based on the information on a mobile computer or provided by a dispatcher, the officer could call for backup, for example, for a high-risk level, said Bremerton Police Chief Steve Strachan.
More than 17,000 inmates are in state prisons and more than 96 percent of them will be released at some point, according to DOC statistics. Another 15,000 are being supervised after their release.
Every 15 minutes, the DOC provides an update to WASIC, according to DOC spokeswoman Norah West. The information has been provided since late March.
The change is the most significant policy change in the wake of Radulescu's killing, along with the "Blue Alert" system -- tantamount to an "Amber Alert," in which a public broadcasting system is activated when a law enforcement officer is killed in the state.
Radulescu was shot in the early hours of Feb. 23, 2012, by a felon he'd pulled over. The man who shot Radulescu fled the scene and later killed himself as police closed in on him.
Patrol spokesman Bob Calkins said giving law enforcement at the street level a better idea about who they are dealing with is a positive step.
''Every piece of information that a trooper or officer has on a traffic stop is critical," he said.