Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing restricting chokeholds across every law enforcement agency in Washington, creating a new, independent state body to investigate police killings and creating a legally binding obligation for law enforcement to report misconduct by their fellow officers.
Inslee, who announced the proposals Monday, said he is also convening a task force to solicit more recommendations for reforming law enforcement in Washington.
The changes come in the wake of more than a week of protests in Seattle and statewide over police use of force and systemic racism in law enforcement. They would need to be approved by the state Legislature.
“This is a moment, I do believe, where if you look at history things are static, static, static, and then boom, the conditions exist when big changes can take place,” Inslee said. “We have to rethink public safety in this state.”
Inslee said the task force would consist of a group of Black leaders and other members of marginalized communities. If their work is complete by the time the governor calls a special legislative session later this year, then their proposals would be considered by the Legislature this year, Inslee said. If not, they would be considered by the Legislature in 2021.
The Washington State Patrol already has a restriction on certain types of chokeholds with exceptions for when the officer’s life is in danger, Inslee said. But such restrictions don’t exist in many of the state’s police and sheriff’s departments.
Inslee said a state proposal could still include an allowance for chokeholds when an officer’s life is in danger, but “police are going to have to convince us that’s the situation.”
“There’s a lethality with them,” Inslee said of chokeholds. “They need to be restricted.”
The new investigative unit he’s proposing, for police killings, could be a separate agency, or could be a subunit of the State Patrol, Inslee said.
Steven Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the group is “open to the suggestions made by the Governor today.”
“While we feel we have done a lot to improve the policing profession, we know there is still more work —hard work — to be done to create meaningful, lasting change,” Strachan said.
In Tacoma this week, the family of Manuel Ellis, a Black man who was killed by Tacoma police in March, has been calling for a full, independent investigation by the attorney general, rather than simply a review of the investigation conducted by Pierce County officials.
Inslee pledged that the State Patrol, once Pierce County prosecutor Mary Robnett announces a decision in the case, would re-interview witnesses and re-analyze evidence and that the attorney general would then make a decision on whether officers should be charged.
“This is the best source we have for an independent investigation and review now,” Inslee said.