Comment: Policing bill gives state panel too much authority

Senate Bill 5051 expands the work of the Criminal Justice Training Commission beyond its policy duties.

By Jeff Holy / For The Herald

Like the Emerald City in the classic movie “The Wizard of Oz,” our state Capitol in Olympia makes a great first impression. When you initially visit the state Legislature at our Capitol, you are struck by the building’s opulent appearance, from the grand marble and granite architecture to the decorum and pageantry when the Legislature is in session.

However, once the curtain is pulled back, like Dorothy found out when she saw who the great Oz really was, you quickly discover Washington’s Legislature isn’t quite what you first think. While the campus is amazing to see, you eventually realize our state’s legislative body is composed of a lot of regular people.

As normal people from different backgrounds and different communities throughout Washington, legislators bring a wide variety of skill sets, education and life experiences with them to Olympia. Yet legislators are regularly expected to make decisions on topics and issues that have a dramatic impact in areas far beyond their knowledge base. Even though not intending to do so, such decisions often create unexpected consequences.

A good case in point this legislative session is Senate Bill 5051, which concerns law enforcement.

Law enforcement in our state has been under a microscope for several years now, and changes to oversight and procedures are both inevitable and overdue. Needed changes include greater civilian involvement in statewide law-enforcement policy setting. However, a check-and-balance system must also be maintained to tether policymaking to the realities of police work. So how do we accomplish this?

Our federal and state constitutions both provide for a separation of government’s powers. This was intentionally done to make sure that separate but equal branches of government have the ability to balance the possible excess of any one branch and continue as a government based in law. In other words, a check-and-balance system.

Washington state government has adopted this model in many different aspects over our state’s history, including in oversight of law enforcement. Historically, law-enforcement training, policy and oversight has been provided by our state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission. This reasonably can be seen as a legislative function. These policies as established are put into practice by the officer on the street, which is an executive function. Sheriffs and police chiefs determine whether the officers on the street are following established policy, which is an adjudicative function. This separation of authorities provides that needed check and balance in oversight of our state’s law enforcement officers. Even more importantly, it provides direct involvement of all parties involved in the criminal-justice system.

However, Senate Bill 5051 would change everything.

This proposal, which recently was passed by the Senate Law and Justice Committee, would expand the authority of the Criminal Justice Training Commission far beyond the training and policy group it was originally intended to be. This bill aims to consolidate, in one agency, the power to define officer certification, the choice of who qualifies for certification, the authority to investigate officers from all departments, and the ability to revoke certification from any officer from any department. All of this power would be consolidated within the CJTC, in addition to its authority to set statewide training and policy standards for law enforcement.

As a move is made toward statewide control of police departments, local input and decision-making as to what type of a police department a community desires may well be lost.

Passing Senate Bill 5051 is that first step in losing control of our local police agencies. This bill concerns me and should concern people throughout Washington.

If you really support local police, don’t support SB 5051.

Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, is an attorney and retired Spokane police officer. He represents the 6th Legislative District.

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