A bill to curb excessive force by law-enforcement officers got the approval of the Washington state Senate on Tuesday, becoming the first piece of police accountability legislation to pass out of a chamber this year.
Supported by Democratic legislators and community advocates, SB 5066 would require officers to intervene and try to stop excessive force by their peers.
The vote mostly fell along party lines, passing 28-21, with one Democrat — Sen. Tim Sheldon, of Potlatch — opposed. The bill heads to the House for further debate.
“You have to make sure that these good, honorable, ethical law-enforcement officers have the tools they need to stop the bad apples,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, the bill’s sponsor.
During Tuesday’s debate, Dhingra said the legislation would “empower” officers to do the right thing, while Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, said the proposal “scares cops.”
Holy argued the bill not only had the potential for abuse but was going in the wrong direction.
“I look at this and these are the kind of things that I would have never gone into law enforcement had I seen any of these things in place 35 years ago,” said Holy, who had a 22-year career with the Spokane Police Department.
Other Senate Republicans and law-enforcement officials said they supported the intent, but took issue with parts of the bill they said were too subjective.
The Senate rejected nine amendments introduced by Republicans, who tried to clarify language in the bill and narrow the definitions of things like “excessive force” and “intervention.”
After the bill passed, a public-affairs officer for the Seattle Police Department said the department does not comment on pending legislation, and claimed the purpose of the bill is captured in SPD policy.
Under the bill, police officers who witness excessive or attempted excessive force by a fellow officer would need to step in, or face suspension or decertification. Washington state has never decertified an officer for using excessive force.
Officers would also be required to report any wrongdoing they see from another officer to that officer’s supervisor, and would be protected from discipline or retaliation. Under the proposed change, all law-enforcement officers in the state would receive relevant training.
In 2018, lawmakers and voters passed Initiative 940 that removed a decades-old barrier that had made it nearly impossible to bring criminal charges against law-enforcement officers deemed to have used deadly force wrongfully.
Duty-to-intervene laws have been some of the most widely adopted changes in law enforcement in the wake of George Floyd’s death by Minneapolis police in May, that triggered protests against police excessive force across the nation, according to Dhingra.
But the bill is only one step in a broader push for police reform in the Washington Legislature, led by Democratic lawmakers and community activists. Dhingra said her bill was motivated by the police bystanders in the killing of Floyd, as well as the killing of Manuel Ellis in Tacoma.
Another bill to restrict excessive force, House Bill 1054, which would prohibit police tactics like chokeholds and neck restraints, is waiting for a floor vote.
SB 5066 is headed to the House for consideration, and needs to be approved by the House by April 11 to be eligible to become law this year.