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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gov. Jay Inslee to create task force to ‘rethink’ policing

OLYMPIA – A protestor who refused to give her name adjusts a sign on the north steps of the Legislative Building calling for an independent investigation into the death of a Tacoma man in police custody. (Laurel Demkovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday that he would create an independent statewide task force to address policing across the state of Washington.

The group would investigate the use of force as well as the need for a new independent agency to oversee the investigative process after a use of force incident.

“We have to rethink policing and public safety in Washington,” Inslee said in a press conference.

Inslee said the task force would include community members, specifically people of color, but he did not know who exactly would be on it yet.

Inslee said he didn’t want to rule out the task force’s findings before a possible special session later this summer. If the findings are released before a special session, police tactics and possible budget cuts could be on the table for legislators.

“We need to take action earlier rather than later,” Inslee said.

The creation of the task force comes after protests erupted across the nation after the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed two weeks ago after a white officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

Thousands of Washington residents have gathered across the state to protest, demanding justice for Floyd and countless others who die in police custody. Inslee and Secretary of Health John Wiesman urged those attending protests to wear a mask, use hand sanitizer and stay as far away from other people as possible.

Wiesman advised those who attend protests to self-isolate for 14 days afterward and get tested for COVID-19 if they experience any symptoms.

“We have plenty of testing supplies for this,” Wiesman said.

Inslee also outlined three specific policing issues he wants legislators to discuss during the next session: creating an independent investigative unit to oversee police, rethinking police force and restricting choke holds, and creating a legally-binding obligation for officers to report misconduct.

Inslee did not speak to defunding police altogether but said he understands the goal is to increase funding in areas that need it the most, such as education and mental health services.

Washington activists have also criticized the state’s handling of the death of Manuel Ellis, a Black man killed by police while being restrained in March. Inslee announced Friday that he was calling for an independent review of Ellis’ death. He elaborated Monday that he would ask Attorney General Bob Ferguson to further review the investigation after the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office was finished. He urged the Attorney General to work completely independently from the Pierce County prosecuting attorney.

“We need to make sure this is a fair and just and thorough investigation,” Inslee said.

About 10 members of the Tacoma Action Collective arrived early Monday morning to sit on the Capitol steps, demanding justice for Ellis. They spoke with Inslee’s chief of staff, David Postman, but refused to leave until they spoke with the governor himself.

An independent review is not enough, the group said through a spokesperson. The group wants an independent investigation completely separate from Pierce County law enforcement.

Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.