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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Police reform is advancing in Washington Legislature. Here’s where those proposals stand:

Feb. 14, 2021 Updated Tue., Feb. 16, 2021 at 5:02 p.m.

K-9 Zeus, with Spokane police Officer Todd Belitz, left, along with Officer Brandon Fabian and his dog, King, rear, display their animals after a gathering of news media July 9 at the Spokane Police Academy featuring the use of the dogs in de-escalating situations.  (DAN PELLE)
K-9 Zeus, with Spokane police Officer Todd Belitz, left, along with Officer Brandon Fabian and his dog, King, rear, display their animals after a gathering of news media July 9 at the Spokane Police Academy featuring the use of the dogs in de-escalating situations. (DAN PELLE)

OLYMPIA – The Washington House of Representatives passed three police accountability bills last week, the first of a number of police reform bills heard this session.

Democrats have made equity and police reform priorities this session. Some bills, like those passed on Wednesday, will have some bipartisan support while other, more controversial ones face a long road ahead to passage.

With five weeks of the session over and Monday’s cutoff date looming, here’s a look at where police reform bills currently stand:

Accountability bills passed Wednesday

The first police reform bills to pass off the House floor this session dealt with accountability.

One bill was related to impeachment disclosures, a practice set forth in Brady v. Maryland that requires prosecutors to turn over any evidence “impeaching the credibility of a government witness,” such as a police officer.

The bill’s sponsor Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, said “impeaching an officer” refers to the official determination that engaging in misconduct can affect the credibility of an officer. It’s about whether you can rely on these officers to tell the truth, he said.

The bill would require the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to update its policy addressing impeachment disclosures and develop online training consistent with that policy. It also would require law enforcement agencies to report an officer’s misconduct to prosecuting authorities, if it could affect credibility.

Lastly, it would require law enforcement agencies to inquire about an officer’s previous impeachment disclosures before hiring them.

“The truth is the best friend of justice,” Lovick said.

The bill passed 61-37.

Another bill debated Wednesday authorizes the State Auditor to review deadly force investigations to determine if all applicable rules and procedures were followed. It also allows the auditor to review a law enforcement agency’s training, if the Criminal Justice Training Commission requests it.

“The point of this audit is not to judge the decision of the investigation,” Rep. Bill Ramos, D-Issaquah, said on the floor. “It is just to see that they followed the process.”

The bill passed 80-18.

The last bill to pass Wednesday would establish a grant program aimed at encouraging a broader diversity of candidates for law enforcement positions.

Under the proposal, sponsored by Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, law enforcement agencies would compete for grant funding by submitting ideas for encouraging people from underrepresented groups to seek careers in law enforcement. The bill does not specify how much state money may be set aside for the program.

The grant program would focus on the future of policing rather than the problems with it, Maycumber told The Spokesman-Review. It could bring a focus on community policing and allow young people in the community to build a trust with law enforcement, she added.

“There’s a difference between reactionary policing and community policing,” she said. “We can always do more. It’s a good thing to talk about the next generation of peace officers and public servants.

The bill passed unanimously. All three bills now head to the Senate for consideration.

Police tactics

One of the more controversial bills this session, the police tactics bill, has yet to make it to the floor for a vote. After some changes, a substitute bill passed through the House Public Safety committee last month.

“This bill is certainly fast track and it is a work in progress,” House Public Safety Committee Chairman Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said in a Jan. 21 hearing.

The bill would prohibit or strictly limit the uses of chokeholds and neck restraints, police dogs, military equipment and no-knock warrants. The original bill prohibited most of those actions, unless specific criteria were met. The new version of the bill, however, loosens those restrictions a bit.

The changes include the following:

  • Removing armed vehicles and armored helicopters from the definition of “military equipment,” allowing law enforcement agencies to use them.
  • Prohibiting the use of police dogs specifically when arresting or apprehending someone.
  • Removing the prohibition on concealing badges and instead requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies that ensure uniformed officers are reasonably identifiable.
  • Allowing officers to fire upon moving vehicles, if it appears the driver is using the vehicle for serious physical harm to another person.

While there is still room for more changes later, Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, told committee members last month this version was about “as close as we’re probably going to get” to a comprehensive bill.

“We need to find more efficient alternatives to these police tactics,” he said. “It’s a great first step.”

Republicans on the committee, however, still had concerns with the bill.

“I feel like this bill is not ready yet,” Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, ranking Republican on the committee, said. “I feel like it was rushed through, to be honest.”

The bill is still in the House, but the Senate also is having discussions about police tactics.

Republican Senators Mike Padden, of Spokane Valley, and Jeff Holy, of Cheney, have proposed a bill that puts restrictions on the use of vascular neck restraints but doesn’t prohibit them altogether.

The bill would require the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, the Washington State Patrol, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and other groups to develop a written model policy for the use of vascular neck restraints. The training commission would be required to provide training for officers on its proper uses, and 50% of law enforcement officers would have to receive training and certification for it.

The bill also would require that by June 1, 2022, all law enforcement agencies have implemented a vascular neck restraint policy.

Supporters of the vascular neck restraint say it has distinct differences from chokeholds. While chokeholds are always considered deadly force, neck restraints do not restrict the airway in the same way.

Padden told the Senate Law and Justice committee he worries neck restraints help de-escalate certain situations, and if they are removed, officers may have to resort to worse measures, such as deadly force.

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl told the committee last week that removing the neck restraint may have the opposite effect and lead to more officer-involved shootings, as officers are left with less options.

“I am seriously concerned if we lose this tool,” Meidl said.

Opponents say neck restraints are just chokeholds by another name and are not properly used.

Sakara Remmu, of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance, told committee members the vascular neck restraint is a deadly tactic by another name. She called the bill “repugnant” to the will of the people in Washington.

“This bill also fails to address the systematic racism within police departments when it comes to the use of unnecessary, excessive and deadly force by police in Washington state,” Remmu said.

If the police tactics bill makes it to the floor this session, lawmakers expect a lengthy debate.

Collective bargaining

Another of the more controversial issues being discussed deals with the collective bargaining for police unions.

Two bills related to collective bargaining were heard the first week of the session. One of them, a bill that would establish an arbitrator selection procedure for grievances that would be heard by nine appointed arbitrators, has passed out of committee. It also prohibits a public employer of law enforcement from entering into a collective bargaining agreement that prevents civilian review, if a local ordinance calls for it.

Voters in Spokane enshrined a police oversight process into the city charter in 2013, but city officials have struggled over the years to win agreement from the Spokane Police Guild to fully implement all aspects called for in the charter.

The bill currently is awaiting a debate on the floor.

The second bill, which has less support, has yet to make it past that first hearing.

It would limit what can be included in law enforcement’s collective bargaining agreements, such as having a waiting period before an officer is interviewed about a use-of-force incident. It would also establish a list of misconduct practices that would result in firing of an officer and require any appeals for misconduct to go through a civil service commission, hearing examiner or administrative law judge.

Labor and law enforcement groups have argued that the bill goes too far while supporters say it could help bring more transparency to their contracts.

Data collection

Multiple bills regarding data collection on the use of deadly force have been heard and passed out of committee.

In the House, a bill that would require Washington State University to establish and maintain a program to collect and publish information on law enforcement’s use-of-force incidents has passed out of committee with minor changes.

The bill, a request by the Attorney General’s office, requires the university to collect information on numerous types of use of force, including fatalities or substantial injuries, the discharging of weapons, the use of chokeholds, the use of police dogs and police car pursuits.

The bill would require data collection to begin no later than July 1, 2022.

The bill has passed through Appropriations and is now awaiting a floor vote.

A separate Senate bill would require the Attorney General’s Office to establish an advisory group to make recommendations for implementation of the statewide data collection program. That bill is awaiting a hearing in the Ways and Means committee.

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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