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Washington bill requiring police officers to intervene when they see use of force heads to governor

April 20, 2021 Updated Tue., April 20, 2021 at 9:29 p.m.

The Washington Capitol building is seen in March 2020 in Olympia, Washington.  (Rachel La Corte)
The Washington Capitol building is seen in March 2020 in Olympia, Washington. (Rachel La Corte)

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Legislature passed a bill that would require an officer to intervene when witnessing a fellow officer using excessive force.

The Senate concurred 31-18 on changes made in the House, sending the bill to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk for signature.

The bill passed Tuesday, less than an hour after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd. Floyd, a Black man, died while Chauvin, who is white, pinned Floyd to the pavement with his knee on Floyd’s neck. Floyd’s death sparked outrage across the country, led to massive Black Lives Matter protests and prompted Washington Democratic lawmakers to propose a broad police accountability package.

Bill sponsor Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, has said the force bill is about empowering officers.

“It’s about making sure that when they intervene, they have the training that allows them to do it well,” Dhingra said when the Senate first passed the bill in late February.

The bill requires an officer to intervene, if they are able, when they see another officer attempting to or using excessive force. It also requires officers to report any wrongdoing to the witnessing officer’s supervisor. “Wrongdoing” is defined as “conduct that is harmful or contrary to law or a violation of professional standards or ethical rules,” according to the bill.

Law enforcement agencies must adopt written policies on the duty to intervene, and ensure that all officers obtain training through the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission.

Law enforcement organizations have said they were supportive of creating a statewide duty to intervene but expressed concerns that this version creates too much ambiguity.

Spokane Valley Republican Sen. Mike Padden said on the floor Tuesday that there were still major issues with the bill, expressing concerns with the punishment for an officer if they do not follow the procedure exactly and the timing of the training. Current law enforcement officers must be trained no later than Dec. 31, 2023, which Padden said he did not think would be enough time.

A law enforcement agency must report action for the failure to intervene or report wrongdoing to the Criminal Justice Training Commission to determine if the officer’s conduct is grounds for suspension or decertification.

Other bills awaiting final passage include one to limit certain police tactics, such as chokeholds or neck restraints, and one to implement a decertification process for officers who use deadly force. Others, such as a proposal to create a state office of investigations for use-of-force incidents, and one to create a use-of-force database statewide are awaiting the governor’s signature.

The legislative session is scheduled to end Sunday.

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.

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