Police reform in focus during first week of state Legislature
Sun., Jan. 17, 2021
OLYMPIA – The first week of the Legislature brought numerous hearings on proposed police reform legislation, from changing tactics to updating training protocols to collecting data on every use-of-force incident.
Lawmakers have been working on a broad set of legislative proposals regarding police reform since the summer after the in-custody killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The proposals heard this week are likely just the first to come out of this 105-day session, as police reform is one of Democratic leaders’ main priorities this session.
“We can deliver on true public safety that is equitable and just,” said Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way.
Police reform isn’t just a Minnesota problem or a Seattle problem or an urban problem, said Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent. “This is a problem that affects every corner of our state.”
Some of the bills heard this week had support from both law enforcement and families of victims of police violence. Others have already proven to be controversial.
Changing police tactics
A police tactics bill received mixed reactions in its first hearing on Tuesday, including some opposition from law enforcement groups.
The bill would ban or severely limit the use of the following:
- Chokeholds and neck restraints
- Tear gas and other military equipment
- Unleashing police dogs during an arrest
- Vehicular pursuits, unless it’s probable that the person in the vehicle has committed a crime
- The intentional concealing of badge numbers while working
- No-knock warrants
The House Public Safety Committee heard some emotional testimony from those in favor of the police tactics bill.
Trishandra Pickup, of the Suquamish Tribe, teared up when talking about the number of people who are killed each year by police. She said chokeholds and neck restraints are “way too risky” and predominantly used on Black and Brown people.
“Please enact this law,” she said. “We must start to address the history of policing.”
Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs told the committee he was impressed with the bill because it looked at state standards. The average city does not have the resources to look at all of these issues, Beggs said. It’s going to take a change in state standards and training.
Fred Thomas, of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, shared his support for the bill and issued a warning to committee members: “Don’t be surprised if your 105-day session is over, and more people are dead at the hands of law enforcement.”
But law enforcement groups had some reservations on the bill.
James McMahan, policy director at the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the language in the bill creates “unacceptable consequences” and puts the public and officers in “unnecessary danger.”
The bill removes many opportunities for deescalation, McMahan said.
Republicans Rep. Brad Klippert, a Benton County sheriff’s deputy, and Rep. Jesse Young, of Gig Harbor, both pushed for some changes in the bill’s language to allow for these tactics to be used in certain situations, if an officer’s life was at risk.
Two bills regarding law enforcement personnel’s collective bargaining were heard in committee this week. Supporters said the bills would provide more transparency in the law enforcement arbitration process while opponents say it severely limits workers’ rights.
One bill would establish an arbitrator selection procedure for grievances that would be heard by nine appointed arbitrators. It would also prohibit a public employer of law enforcement from entering into a collective bargaining agreement that prevents civilian review, if a local ordinance calls for it.
“We can respect the work that local jurisdictions are doing with their communities while also respecting the rights of workers to bargain over the impacts of those community-based decisions,” Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, told Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee members on Thursday.
Beggs said Spokane has struggled with allowing meaningful civilian review of the arbitration process while not interfering with union contracts. He said as long as it is not directly affecting disciplinary decisions, civilians should be involved.
Another bill 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 representatives and law enforcement groups opposed the bills, saying they go too far and limit worker’s rights.
“This would tip the scale away from workers and toward management,” said Teresa Taylor, of the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs.
Marco Monteblanco, of the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, said he supported the first bill but did not support the second as it “goes way too far” and represents “bad policy.”
The House Public Safety Committee also heard 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.
The information must be published on a website and viewable to the public. The data collected would include information about fatalities or substantial injuries, the discharging of weapons, use of chokeholds or the use of a police dog, among other things.
Over time, it would include broader law enforcement interactions with the public.
The data collection would cost money, but the exact price is not known.
This bill would provide much-needed transparency surrounding use-of-force incidents by police, said co-sponsor Rep. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek.
“If we are unable to understand the cause of the issue, it becomes difficult to solve it,” Lovick said.
Law enforcement representatives supported the bill, although they did have some concerns about the amount of data they would be required to provide.
Klippert, a patrol deputy, said he worried the data points were too broad and would lead to law enforcement officers spending too much time on answering questions for the data collection, instead of actually protecting the public.
“There are so many questions and so many instances that have to be answered,” Klippert said.
Decertification and state oversight
In its last hearing of the week, the House Public Safety Committee heard a bill that would change the process for how law enforcement officers are hired, certified and decertified.
It also would make changes to the Criminal Justice Training Commission, ensuring that civilians make up a majority.
“We do want civilian oversight in our law enforcement,” said committee chair Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland.
The proposal lists when certification is denied or revoked, including when an officer is found to have engaged in force resulting in death or serious injury. The bill also does not allow for recertification at any time.
Law enforcement representatives opposed pieces of the legislation, saying it goes too far and the language is too broad.
“We think it oversteps the due process of each individual officer,” James Schrimpsher, of the Fraternal Order of Police, said on Friday.
Beggs said there needs to be a statewide standard for training and decertification. How someone is disciplined shouldn’t depend on their ZIP code, he said.
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