Visitors view photos of people who were killed by police in Washington State and elsewhere, June 16, inside what was called the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Visitors view photos of people who were killed by police in Washington State and elsewhere, June 16, inside what was called the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)

Lawmakers, activists set ambitious agenda for police reform

The bills being drafted represent a broad overhaul of policing and police accountability in Washington.

By Gene Johnson / Associated Press

SEATTLE — Washington state lawmakers and activists are setting an ambitious agenda for police reform in the upcoming legislative session, saying they hope to make it easier to decertify officers for misconduct, to bar the use of police dogs to make arrests, and to create an independent statewide agency to investigate police killings.

“Now is the time,” Spokane pastor Walter Kendricks, of Washington for Black Lives, told the House Public Safety Committee during a meeting Monday. “It’s been too many years, and too many people have died.”

The bills being drafted for the session beginning in January represent a broad overhaul of policing and police accountability in Washington, building on years of work by advocates and galvanized by the raging police-brutality protests that followed the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in May.

The measures are expected to target longstanding hurdles to reform by ensuring truly independent investigations when officers use deadly force, rather than having officers from neighboring jurisdictions review the actions of their colleagues; by making it easier to decertify bad officers, preventing them from simply moving to another department; and by limiting or ending the use of private arbitrators when officers appeal discipline for misconduct, as those arbitrators often reinstate fired officers or overrule punishments handed down by police chiefs.

Officers would be required to intervene to stop and to report misconduct by their colleagues, and they could be sued for failing to use de-escalation tactics when appropriate. A statewide, publicly available database would track police activity, including stops, arrests and uses of force.

A bill being introduced by Rep. Jesse Johnson, a Federal Way Democrat, would address several police tactics — curtailing the use of chokeholds and neck restraints by officers, banning officers from firing into a moving vehicle unless it presents an imminent threat, and barring the use of no-knock warrants. While police would be allowed to use dogs for drug detection and tracking, officers would be forbidden from unleashing the animals to make arrests. Police dogs often viciously bite suspects — not to mention bystanders, witnesses and officers themselves — causing lasting injuries and sometimes expensive court settlements.

Many in law enforcement support those measures, Johnson said. More controversial efforts could include limiting collective bargaining rights of police unions and changing the standard for when officers can be held liable for using deadly force, requiring such actions to be necessary rather than just reasonable.

“I’m very hopeful we’re gong to achieve a major, comprehensive set of reforms,” Rep. Roger Goodman, the Kirkland Democrat who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said Tuesday. “There’s going to be a lot of disagreement when we get to the details, but it’s not as adversarial as one might imagine.”

Police groups, including the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the Criminal Justice Training Commission and the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, have said they will work with lawmakers and activists to try to find common ground. Some have supported a requirement that officers report when they witness misconduct or limiting the ability to appeal discipline to an arbitrator.

The state’s last major police reform legislation, Initiative 940, took effect this year after being amended by the Legislature. It made it easier to charge police for deadly shootings by eliminating a requirement that prosecutors prove an office acted with malice, and it aimed to eliminate conflicts of interest in reviews of killings by police and to ensure community members participate in those reviews.

But I-940 contained no mechanism for holding police departments accountable if they failed to comply. When Tacoma police killed Manuel Ellis early this year, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office spent three months investigating the death before divulging that one of its deputies had been involved in Ellis’ arrest. Gov. Jay Inslee turned the review over to the Washington State Patrol and appointed a task force on independent investigations of police killings.

“The need for a totally trustworthy system is so imperative in these most crucial and heartfelt tragedies,” Inslee told the task force during a meeting last month.

The task force, which includes community activists, relatives of those killed by police and law enforcement representatives, has spent months examining how a new state agency might handle investigations — as well as how to ensure independent prosecutions of officers in cases where local prosecutors might have a conflict of interest.

Former King County Sheriff Sue Rahr, who heads the state Criminal Justice Training Commission, urged lawmakers Monday to take a balanced approach to police reform. She agreed that officers must be held accountable for misconduct, but described the creation of a new state agency to investigate uses of force as extremely expensive and possibly ineffective in addressing the root causes of problematic policing, including unconscious racial bias and a lack of training.

“You’ll be making a huge investment in a plan that relies on punishment and deterrence as the primary strategy to change police behavior,” Rahr said. “We can more effectively promote fair and just policing by providing comprehensive education for all members of law enforcement.”

Talk to us

More in Northwest

Trainer Marcia Henton feeds Lolita the killer whale, also known as Tokitae and Toki, inside her stadium tank at the Miami Seaquarium on Saturday, July 8, 2023, in Miami, Fla. After officials announced plans to move Lolita from the Seaquarium, trainers and veterinarians are now working to prepare her for the move. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)
Ashes of orca Tokitae finally home after her death last month in Miami

Her ashes will be scattered in a private ceremony by members of the Lummi Nation.

A Coast Guard cutter searches for a crashed chartered floatplane near Mutiny Bay Monday afternoon in Freeland, Washington on September 5, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Wife of pilot killed in Whidbey Island floatplane crash files lawsuit

This is the lawsuit filed against companies associated with the aircraft’s operations and manufacturing.

NO CAPTION. Logo to accompany news of Seattle.
Seattle City Council OKs law to prosecute for having and using drugs such as fentanyl in public

The council voted to approve the measure by a 6-3 vote on Tuesday, aligning the city’s code with a new state law.

Logo for news use, for stories regarding Washington state government — Olympia, the Legislature and state agencies. No caption necessary. 20220331
WA Supreme Court says state isn’t responsible for 100% of school construction costs

Wahkiakum School District argued the state’s duty to amply fund education extended to capital projects. One justice scolded the state, saying the current system is unfair to small districts.

An EA-18G Growler taxis down the airstrip on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island during the squadron’s welcome home ceremony in August 2017. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Scott Wood/U.S. Navy)
Judge orders new Growler jet study on Whidbey Island

The Navy must redo an environmental study on the impact of expanded EA-18G Growler operations.

Scott Giard, Coast Guard spokesperson, addresses the media regarding the search for a crashed chartered floatplane Monday afternoon in Freeland, Washington on August 5, 2022.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
NTSB probe of Whidbey floatplane crash points to likely cause, fix

Documents released Friday reveal new details about the deadly floatplane crash that happened a year ago near Whidbey Island.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson arrives on April 27, 2023, at the University of Washington's Hans Rosling Center for Population Health in Seattle. Attorney General Ferguson launched an exploratory campaign for governor on Tuesday, May 2, 2023, one day after incumbent Jay Inslee announced he would not run again. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
State attorney general asks feds to add Everett to Operation Overdrive

Bob Ferguson requested that the federal government include the city to an initiative aimed at identifying and dismantling drug networks.

FILE - Bruce Harrell speaks on Oct. 28, 2021, in Seattle during the second of two debates before the November election for the office of mayor. Harrell, now Seattle's mayor, says the police department's low staffing in its sexual assault unit that has led to a backlog of dozens of stalled cases is "unacceptable." Harrell made his comments following a report by The Seattle Times and KUOW of an internal memo that showed the unit had stopped investigating most new sexual assault cases involving adults this year. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, Pool, File)
Seattle mayor proposes drug measure to align with state law, adding $27M for treatment

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell is offering a proposal that would align the city’s code with new state law.

Murphy’s Lala speaks to a crowd at Arlington’s first-ever Pride celebration telling them to “pay them no mind” in response to the Pride protestors on Saturday, June 4, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
AG’s office presses Arlington for weapons-free zone at Pride event

Event organizers say the precaution is warranted under the terms of a 2021 state law.

U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Nick Brown poses for a photo outside the U.S. Courthouse Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Ex-US attorney to face state senator in Washington AG race

Nick Brown announced Wednesday he’s running to be Washington’s next attorney general.

FILE - Then-Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., speaks on Nov. 6, 2018, at a Republican party election night gathering in Issaquah, Wash. Reichert filed campaign paperwork with the state Public Disclosure Commission on Friday, June 30, 2023, to run as a Republican candidate. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Former sheriff who nabbed ‘Green River Killer’ to run for Washington governor

Former King County Sheriff and U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, 72, is running as a Republican candidate.

Debris from the Titan submersible, recovered from the ocean floor near the wreck of the Titanic, is unloaded from the ship Horizon Arctic at the Canadian Coast Guard pier in St. John's, Newfoundland, Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press via AP)
Presumed human remains found in wreckage of OceanGate submersible

The U.S. Coast Guard says it has likely recovered human remains from the wreckage of the Titan submersible.