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Legislature OKs bill easing decertification of police

UPDATED: Wed., April 21, 2021

By Gene Johnson Associated Press

SEATTLE – A measure described as the teeth of the Washington state Legislature’s ambitious police accountability agenda is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk.

The state Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that makes it easier to decertify police for bad acts, a day after an ex-Minneapolis officer was convicted of murdering George Floyd. The Democrat-led Senate voted 27-22 to concur with changes made in the House, including some that increased transparency related to officer discipline.

The bill requires departments to conduct broader background checks for officers before hiring them – including checking with previous departments for any discipline history or misconduct investigations. It also expands civilian representation on the Criminal Justice Training Commission and requires the commission to maintain a publicly searchable database of officers, what agency they work for, what conduct has been investigated and the disposition of any investigations.

Floyd’s murder and the widespread Black Lives Matter protests it inspired spurred Washington lawmakers to adopt a slew of police accountability and reform bills this session. One granted final approval Tuesday requires officers to intervene if they see a colleague using or attempting to use excessive force and they’re in a position to do so.

It would also require police to report wrongdoing by another officer to that officer’s supervisor, including criminal acts or violations of professional standards, and it would forbid retaliation against police who intervene or report wrongdoing.

Of 16 bills the Democrats proposed, 11 passed the House and Senate in some form, though some await a final vote after changes to versions passed by the opposite house.

Among those passed are bills that curb police tactics and equipment, restricting the use of tear gas, chokeholds and neck restraints and banning no-knock warrants, and that create an independent office to review the use of deadly force by police. Another requires officers to use reasonable care when using force – including exhausting all de-escalation techniques.

Inslee has already signed a bill reforming the arbitration system by which officers can appeal discipline after it passed with bipartisan support.

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