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Major police reforms become law in Washington after Inslee signs bills he calls ‘just the beginning’

UPDATED: Tue., May 18, 2021

Gov. Jay Inslee talks with the media after his tour of Stevens Elementary School, Feb. 23, 2021, in Spokane.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gov. Jay Inslee talks with the media after his tour of Stevens Elementary School, Feb. 23, 2021, in Spokane. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A week shy of the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd during a Minneapolis police arrest that prompted protests in Washington and all over the country, Gov. Jay Inslee signed sweeping legislation Tuesday to reform law enforcement policies and oversight.

The 12 bills, which ban certain tactics like choke holds and limit others like the use of tear gas, will give Washington the most accountable and transparent police system in the United States, Inslee told reform advocates and families who lost members as a result of police actions.

“This is the beginning. This is not the end,” Inslee said during a bill signing ceremony at a Tacoma community center.

Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, the sponsor of the bill that bans choke holds and neck restraints, called those new restrictions the beginning of a process to “demilitarize police.”

2020 was a difficult year, he said, with the deaths of Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25; Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13; and Manny Ellis in Tacoma on March 3. But people in Washington came together to demand change, Johnson said.

“Justice is just us, coming together to transform the system,” he said.

“These changes came about because Washingtonians demanded it,” Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, added.

House Public Safety Committee Chairman Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said work between advocates of reform and the law enforcement community was “a more collaborative approach than you would have imagined.”

But members of law enforcement agencies and organizations that represent them weren’t on hand for the formal bill signing.

Inslee said later he didn’t know whether they hadn’t been invited or weren’t able to attend. But he insisted the bills were common sense improvements that will protect officers as well as the public through independent investigations and statewide standards for tactics.

“I used to work with law enforcement personnel. I know how tough their job is,” said Inslee, who was once a deputy prosecutor. “I don’t sign bills without a recognition that everyone’s life is valuable on our streets.”

Asked whether the new bills will prompt some officers to quit their jobs or move to another state, Inslee replied: “I certainly hope not. … These folks want to have good policing, the ones that are in the profession.”

Major changes from the bills Inslee signed include:

  • The addition of statewide requirements for tactics and equipment, that include a ban on choke holds and neck restraints, and limit the use of tear gas and “no-knock” warrants.
  • Independent investigations of possible criminal actions that could come from use of force by police or custodial officers.
  • Civil standards for use of force that will be consistent statewide.
  • State oversight and added transparency around disciplinary actions.
  • Law enforcement officers will be required to intervene when they see a fellow officer doing things wrong.
  • Law enforcement agencies that consider hiring an experienced officer must inquire about any record of conduct that affects that person’s credibility.
  • The defense of an officer in a civil case tied to actions that result in a personal injury or death will require proof the person was committing a felony when that occurred and it was the cause of the person’s injury or death.
  • Grants to foster community involvement with police officers.
  • Information about law enforcement actions with their communities must be reported, collected and published.
  • Juveniles being questioned must have access to an attorney before they can waive constitutional rights.
  • Interviews with juveniles must be recorded.
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