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Bill requiring police to intervene when another officer uses excessive force passes state Senate

UPDATED: Wed., Feb. 24, 2021

OLYMPIA – The Washington Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would require police officers to intervene and report when they see another officer use excessive force, part of Democrats’ sweeping police accountability package.

The bill passed on party lines, despite Republican opposition to the bill’s “ambiguity.”

“This is about empowering officers,” Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said during the floor debate. “It’s about making sure that when they intervene, they have the training that allows them to do it well.”

The bill, which heads to the House, requires a peace officer to intervene when they see another officer use excessive force and report another officer’s wrongdoing to the 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.

If the bill passes the House, the Criminal Justice Training Commission, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and other law enforcement organizations will be required to adopt written policies on the duty to intervene and ensure all officers receive training on it. The Criminal Justice Training Commission has already identified the training course it plans to use and given it to some officers, Dhingra told Senate Ways and Means Committee members.

Republicans had concerns about the language of the law being too broad and introduced amendments that would have further defined certain portions of the bill, and specified which law enforcement officers would be required to intervene.

The amendments would have offered more clarity for police officers, said Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn.

“What a police officer doesn’t need is ambiguity,” Fortunato said.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, introduced an amendment that would have created a “clear, objective standard” for excessive force in attempt to give better guidance to law enforcement officers.

“Without them, we have anarchy,” Padden said. “That is a concern of mine where we’re headed.”

Ambiguity in the bill was a concern brought forth by law enforcement organizations in committee hearings as well. Representatives from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs and the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association testified in the “other” category. They were in support of creating a consistent statewide policy to intervene but thought some areas needed better definitions.

Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, said the bill puts everybody at risk and “scares cops.”

“It’s going in the wrong direction,” he said.

Democrats argued in the floor debate that the bill does provide enough guidance for law enforcement officers, and requiring a statewide training system would help alleviate some of the ambiguity.

Dhingra said she has worked with law enforcement agencies on this bill, and it would give good officers the “tools to stop the bad apples.”

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said many officers are put in positions where they feel like they can’t do anything to confront another officer. This bill would help fix that, he said.

Supporters say this bill is a step forward, but more needs to be done to fully address the institutional racism in the state.

“One too many times Black people are faced with intense, fast-evolving situations involving law enforcement,” Sakara Remmu, of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee last month.

Remmu said it is “absolutely necessary” for officers responding to intervene and stop excessive use of force.

Both chambers will vote on other police reform bills throughout the coming weeks, before the house of origin cutoff on March 9. Other bills involve limiting the use of certain police tactics, such as chokeholds, and giving more transparency and civilian oversight in the police collective bargaining process.

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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