John Lovick — a former Washington State Patrol trooper, former Snohomish County Sheriff and a Black man who picked cotton for 2 cents a pound as a child growing up in Louisiana in the 1950s and ’60s — admits that he cried when he heard Tuesday’s verdict that found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty in the murder of George Floyd.
“I broke down and I cried. I tried to contain myself, and I couldn’t,” Rep. Lovick, D-Mill Creek, said by phone on Friday as the state Legislature worked to complete its session by Sunday.
Lovick cried, he said, as much because he is a former law enforcement officer as he is a Black American. Lovick cried, as he recounted for The Herald last June, as he had the first time he saw the excruciating video of Chauvin pressing his weight with his knee against the neck of a handcuffed Floyd, suffocating a man who had been arrested for trying to pass a bogus $20 bill.
“When you have something seared into his brain like Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck, his hand in his pocket, his sunglasses on top of his head, I just couldn’t get that out of my head for almost a year,” he said.
Despite relief over the verdict, Lovick doesn’t believe justice has been served in one verdict in one case of unlawful, unjustified and inhumane use of force by an officer who represented “the worst of the worst” among police.
“I didn’t cheer; I didn’t see anything to cheer about,” he said. “George Floyd is still dead. Floyd is dead, and justice has not been served.”
What could begin to serve justice, however, includes the work of Lovick and other state lawmakers this session to adopt several pieces of legislation that concern police accountability reforms and changes to policy.
Of 16 bills sponsored in the House and Senate regarding police accountability and use of force, 11 passed the Legislature, and as of Friday, most had found their way to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee, with a few awaiting final approval in conference committees.
Among the legislation on the governor’s desk or headed there:
Senate Bill 5066 will require officers who witness a fellow officer engaging in excessive use of force to intervene, to render aid to those injured as a result of excessive use of force and to report wrong-doing by another officer.
SB 5051 expands civilian representation on the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission, expands the conduct for which an officer’s certification can be revoked, requires law enforcement agencies to report firings and disciplinary matters to the commission and requires posting of complaints and disciplinary actions to a publicly searchable database.
House Bill 1054, regarding police tactics, bars the use of no-knock warrants, bans choke-holds, outlines when vehicle pursuits are allowed, restricts the use of military equipment acquired from the federal government, requires uniformed officers to display their names and limits the use of tear gas, requiring the highest public official for an agency, such as the governor, mayor or county official, to approve the use of such chemical agents.
HB 1310 establishes a civil standard for police use of force and requires the Attorney General’s Office to develop model policies on use of force and de-escalation tactics.
HB 1088, sponsored by Lovick, will require county prosecutors to adopt protocols for developing impeachment disclosures, also called a Brady list, that identifies officers who because of misconduct or breach of trust, may not be considered credible witnesses in prosecuting criminal cases. It would also require law enforcement agencies to report such officers to prosecutors
Other adopted bills will require the state Auditor’s Office to review investigations of incidents of deadly force; establishes an independent office within the Governor’s Office for investigation of deadly force incidents; and requires data be sent and collected by the state Attorney General’s Office to review use of force cases.
Federal legislation, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, also addresses training and police tactics, such as banning choke-holds and no-knock warrants. It passed the U.S. House in June and again this March, and would tie federal funding to adoption of its provisions. The bill would need at least 10 Republican votes for passage in the Senate.
Work on the state legislation, Lovick said, started shortly after Floyd’s May 25 murder, with meetings among Senate and House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on the Police and Policy Leadership Team. Lovick, himself, met during the course of two weeks with police chiefs within Snohomish County to get their thoughts on the proposals.
Not surprisingly, there hasn’t been agreement from all sides on the bundle of state legislation. Some community groups say the reforms don’t go far enough, for example criticizing the lack of reforms on the practice of qualified immunity, which protects law enforcement officers from civil lawsuits. Nor has their been acceptance on all proposals from law enforcement groups, such as the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs. Yet it was representatives from both sides of the issues who came together in 2019 to refine provisions for deadly use of force and de-escalation tactics that were adopted by voters in 2018 in Initiative 940.
And it would be incorrect to assume that some police departments aren’t already moving in the direction of much of this legislation. The Everett Police Department, as discussed in March, under the leadership of Chief Dan Templeman, has joined a program developed by Georgetown University’s Innovative Policing Program called ABLE for Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement. Project ABLE provides a national hub for training, technical assistance and research, focused on creating a police culture that will enable officers to prevent misconduct, avoid costly mistakes and promote officer health and wellness.
Lovick said he knows that many in law enforcement might chafe at the additional scrutiny that will result from the legislation, “but 99.9 percent know that they do their job well, and that this is for the ones who don’t,” he said.
“But every single police chief that I talked to, they want accountability,” he said.
The trust of the public, especially that of Black, Latino and other communities of color most often affected by unnecessary use of force and subject to disproportionate arrests and harassment, will need that accountability demonstrated and done so repeatedly in order for their trust to be regained.
It’s what can start to serve justice, where one verdict couldn’t.
“It’s not going to get any easier, but we are getting the work done,” Lovick said.