As lawmakers begin a legislative session unlike any in state history, they face many challenging issues. Near the top of that list: criminal justice reform.
Multiple bills will be introduced to address major challenges in our profession: Use of deadly force; accountability of officers; how officers earn or lose credentials to serve as officers; discipline and arbitration processes; duty to intervene when observing misconduct by another officer; officer training, health and wellness; civil service reform and collective bargaining; and many others. Gov. Jay Inslee’s task force recently announced recommendations on these issues.
Police work is hard, and finding the right answers to the issues addressed and questions raised in these bills will be equally difficult. But police work is also vital for the health and safety of our communities, so finding answers is equally important.
The vast majority of officers I have known over the course of my career put on their uniforms for the right reason, to protect and serve the people of their community. But all of us know, as with many professions, that there are peace officers with other motivations. We also know that our uniform and badge don’t make us infallible, and even well-intentioned officers can make mistakes.
As dedicated law enforcement officers, we are never happy to see one of our own accused of misdeeds, nor are we proud of those misdeeds. The public demands and deserves all police officers be accountable to the laws they are sworn to uphold and the policies enacted to govern their actions.
Accountability measures must recognize two important needs. First, due process must be maintained for individual officers accused of wrongful conduct, just as there is for any member of our society. Nothing more, nothing less.
Second, reforms must not make it impossible to meet the training and other resource needs of that majority of officers who are committed to doing their jobs the right way.
Finding that balance is why I agreed to serve on Gov. Inslee’s task force to develop recommendations for legislation on independent investigations into police use of force.
It was a gut-wrenching assignment. Task force members included representatives of communities and families impacted by police violence. Their stories were painful to hear, but it was, and continues to be, important to hear their perspectives. I was at the table because we want to be part of the solution. We want to roll up our sleeves and get it right. In my experience, listening is always the first step in getting it right.
During the 2021 legislative session, members of my organization, the Washington Fraternal Order of Police, will work to restore and strengthen the bonds and trust between peace officers and the communities we serve.
We will pursue carefully defined public policies that build transparency into our profession to help restore that trust. We will advocate for improving the health and dignity of our communities, while also creating evidence-based, data-driven, safe and stable work environments for peace officers. We will promote better hiring practices, training, wellness and mentorship programs to improve the health and diversity among our ranks.
We don’t support the wholesale elimination of collective bargaining as a labor relations process but do support efforts to bring statewide consistency to enable collection, analysis and use of data in decision making and increase transparency with the public.
In all these areas, we will continue working constructively with state and local governments, with other peace officer professional organizations, and with the broader community. We will engage these stakeholders in candid dialogue as we search for common ground.
Meaningful change won’t come from sloganeering or simplistic approaches. Honest collaboration and hard work are the keys to progress. Together, we can develop innovative approaches to promoting public safety that recognize the sanctity of human life, increase the public’s trust in our profession and strengthen our relationships with the communities we serve.