OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The state Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to officially require law enforcement officers to “be truthful and honest” while carrying out their duties.
That seems self-evident, but substitute Senate Bill 6590 is the result of a long-running Kitsap County case involving a deputy who the sheriff’s office has twice tried to fire on allegations of misconduct and lying.
The former deputy, Brian LaFrance, was fired in 2001, reinstated, then fired again in 2005. The litany of allegations against him include charges that he lied to his supervisors.
At the heart of the case was an arbitrator’s 2001 ruling that the county shouldn’t have fired him. The Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild, like many unions, has a contract with the county that stipulates a binding arbitration process in cases of employee discipline.
The state Supreme Court ruled last October that the arbitrator had the power to reinstate LaFrance, on the grounds that there is no policy that prevents the employment of dishonest police officers.
The Senate bill originally would have changed the arbitration process to prohibit arbitrators from overturning a firing for lying. Exceptions were made for cases in which the arbitrator determined the officer was not being dishonest, and in cases where extenuating circumstances were found.
But that language was ultimately eliminated, leaving behind one sentence lawmakers passed Tuesday:
“It is the policy of the state of Washington that all commissioned, appointed, and elected law enforcement personnel be truthful and honest in the conduct of their official business,” the bill reads.
The bill passed 46-0.
Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, said some of his fellow senators raised their eyebrows when the bill was presented, since honesty would seem an inherent part of a law enforcement officer’s duties. But it’s not the first time the Legislature has passed laws in the wake of a court decision, Sheldon said.
“We saw this as a clarification of a court ruling,” he said.
Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer expressed disappointment that legislation is required to address the question of whether a police officer who has been shown to be dishonest may keep his job.
“The basic foundation of our legal system revolves around trustworthiness,” he said. “It’s a sad day that we even have to do this.”
Jim Cline, lawyer for the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Guild that has represented LaFrance in the case, felt the original bill would have interfered with collective bargaining agreements by tying arbitrators’ hands. The bill as passed seems pointless, he said.
“I don’t think that law’s really going to change anything,” Cline said. “It’s always been the requirement that officers be honest and truthful.”
The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives public safety and emergency preparedness committee.
Cline said the LaFrance case is still under review by the state Supreme Court. LaFrance has not been reinstated to the sheriff’s office, and it will likely take arbitration to determine the next steps, Cline said.