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The State Senate passed a bill to overhaul the decertification process for police officers. Here’s what’s in it

The Washington Capitol building is seen on the last day of the 60-day legislative session, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Olympia, Wash.  (Rachel La Corte)
The Washington Capitol building is seen on the last day of the 60-day legislative session, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. (Rachel La Corte)

OLYMPIA – After a lengthy late-night debate Thursday, the state Senate passed a large police accountability bill that expands the state’s oversight of officers and overhauls the decertification process for officers who use excessive force.

After debate on 35 mostly Republican-introduced amendments, none of which were accepted, the bill passed 26-19, mostly along party lines.

Democrats say the bill will hold together all of the other legislation debated this session as part of their sweeping police reform legislative package.

“This is an important accountability measure that will help to animate all of the other bills in this area,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle.

The bill expands the Criminal Justice Training Commission’s ability to investigate police misconduct and revoke an officer’s license. It would allow the commission to initiate the decertification process against an officer rather than wait for a local sheriff or chief to request it.

It also expands civilian oversight in misconduct cases in both the makeup of the commission and in the panels that hear misconduct cases. The commission would now be 17 members, including five civilians and an elected official and tribal member who have not served as officers in the previous 10 years.

The commission currently is made of 16 governor-appointed commissioners, including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Chief of the Washington State Patrol John Batiste and other law enforcement leaders. Spokane activist Kurtis Robinson joined the commission last week.

The panel that hears peace officer decertification hearings would include a police chief or sheriff, one peace officer, one civilian member of the commission, one member of the public and one person with expertise in police accountability. In a corrections officer decertification hearing, the panel is similar but must include the head of the correctional agency as well as a corrections officer.

The bill also expands the reasons an officer could be decertified, now including the use of force that violates the law. Other reasons include being convicted of a felony, witnessing another officer’s use of force and failing to intervene or report it, and making knowingly misleading representations as an officer, among a long list of others.

As of now, Washington has never decertified an officer for using excessive force, according to the Seattle Times.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said the bill is crucial to solving a problem that “those of us with privilege have closed our eyes to.”

Devon Connor-Green, of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance, said there is an urgent need to bring accountability to officers who use excessive force.

“This year, Washington state stands poised to lead the nation in creating systems of transparent police accountability,” he told the Senate Ways and Means Committee in early February.

Republicans said Thursday the bill goes too far. Spokane Valley Rep. Mike Padden said the Legislature has worked in the last few years on police reform, pointing to Initiative 940, which went into effect last year.

This bill does nothing to protect law enforcement officers, the Republican said.

“Do we really want to jeopardize the Fifth Amendment and mandate self-incrimination and violation of privacy?” he said.

Other Eastern Washington Republicans felt similarly. Retired Spokane police officer Sen. Jeff Holy, of Cheney, called the bill “inappropriate for law enforcement.” He criticized the Legislature for not taking into account officers’ experiences and feelings toward this bill. Law enforcement representatives don’t want this, he said.

He added that it’s “disingenuous” to pass one bill that attempts to “solve everything.”

Law enforcement organizations testified against the bill in its committee hearings. In a Senate Law and Justice committee hearing, Jeff DeVere, of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, called the bill “imbalanced.” It could end up making communities less safe, he said.

Sen. Shelly Short, R-Addy, also said the bill would make communities feel less safe, and would upend an entire system and question law enforcement officers’ credibility, preventing due process, she said Thursday.

“This creates tremendous chaos among the chaos that’s already here,” she said.

The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives. Other police reform measures are expected to be debated in both the House and the Senate in the coming weeks.

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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