State lawmakers are wading decisively into the difficult but necessary challenge of addressing the injustices and abuses that drove this summer’s historic Black Lives Matter protests.
Last week, the House Public Safety Committee passed three police-reform bills, which were the products of months of thoughtful research and robust discussion. They would ban certain police tactics, require independent audits of use-of-force investigations and create a public database of force and other incidents.
They are solid proposals that take questionable policing strategies off the table, increase accountability and transparency. They deserve support as part of comprehensive reform.
◾ House Bill 1054 would ban police use of chokeholds, tear gas and no-knock warrants. Sponsored by Public Safety Committee Vice Chair Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, the bill also would curtail the use of military equipment and vehicular pursuits. It would restrict the use of police dogs for apprehending suspects and prohibit uniformed officers from concealing their identities.
◾ HB 1089 would direct the state Auditor’s Office to review deadly force investigations to ensure the process complied with state laws and regulations, and grants state auditors the ability to audit any law enforcement agency upon the and Criminal Justice Training Commission’s request. Rep. Bill Ramos, D-Issaquah, sponsored the bill, which will now be considered by the Appropriations Committee.
◾ HB 1092 would establish a public statewide use-of-force database. It was sponsored by Rep. John Lovick. The Mill Creek Democrat is a former State Patrol sergeant and backed a similar bill last year. This improved version would house the program at Washington State University, rather than with law enforcement. It has been forwarded to the Appropriations Committee.
Importantly, victims’ advocates, law enforcement agency representatives and family of people who have been killed by police agreed on the bulk of reforms in their testimony before the committee. On some differences, committee members amended bills to incorporate many of their suggestions. It was a welcome reminder that the process can still work the way it is supposed to, rather than devolve into an arm-wrestling display of political power.
Such careful deliberation and discussion will be even more important as lawmakers tackle tougher reforms, particularly where there is more disagreement. The goal is worth the effort: to prevent and punish police misconduct and build community trust.
Take HB 1082, which would expand the grounds on which a peace officer can lose his or her certification and, with it, the ability to carry a gun and a badge. The same holds true in the Senate, where SB 5134, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, would strip police unions’ power to negotiate disciplinary processes for allegations of serious misconduct in collective bargaining agreements.
These ambitious proposals get to the heart of accountability, but they also have generated more spirited opposition. They involve dozens of technical details that will have to be resolved. Lawmakers, police and community stakeholders must stay at the table and find a way to do so.
Reforms won’t work unless lawmakers find a way to hold police accountable for misconduct. But if police representatives and community members stay at the table, they can certainly find solutions and build trust and mutual understanding as they do.