OLYMPIA — Two key policing bills are headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk: One that will ban law enforcement from using chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants as well as restrict the use of tear gas, and one that restricts officers’ use of deadly force.
The bills — along with several other policing measures passed this year — are intended to strengthen standards and accountability after years of police killings of people of color, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Manuel Ellis in Tacoma.
“This year, it’s all about accountability,” said Johnson in an interview Friday morning.
A few pieces of policing legislation this year drew bipartisan interest and support from at least some law enforcement groups. One such bill requires law enforcement officers to intervene if they witness another officer using excessive force.
But the two bills that passed Friday were approved over Republican opposition in the Democratic House and Senate and had drawn some opposition all along the way.
HB 1054 bans law enforcement from using chokeholds, neck restraints, no-knock warrants and some military gear.
The main sticking point toward the end was how to treat the use of tear gas. The bill originally banned tear gas, and later versions softened that to restricting the use of tear gas.
The final version allows officers to use tear gas in the event of barricaded subjects, hostage situations and riots, but only after other methods have been exhausted.
But tear gas in those instances can only be applied if the highest elected official in the jurisdiction signs off on it.
That was important for Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Democrat from Seattle who described tear gas wafting through his neighborhood — including in the residences of others nearby — during last year’s protests.
That means the decision to use of tear gas in Seattle and other places will made by people “who would be accountable to the voters,” said Pedersen.
That could even become an issue in the Seattle mayor’s race, he added, saying voters could get a chance “to decide through the democratic process.”
The proposal had started out more ambitiously, but along the way, provisions to prohibit police dogs and armored vehicles were removed.
“It looks big and scary, and I don’t really like them either,” said Johnson, referring to those vehicles. “They’re a little excessive, but I still don’t think they have the power to harm anyone.”
The Legislature also passed HB 1310, which revises the standard for when officers can use deadly force.
The new bill will require law enforcement officers to account for the context of a situation before using deadly force, said Johnson. That could include the state of a subject’s mental health and whether children are present.
“De-escalation is based more on context, and less-lethal alternatives used as a first option,” said Johnson. HB 1310 also narrows the deadly force statute so that it applies only during “an imminent threat of serious physical injury or death,” he said.
In a House floor speech Friday night, Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, said she couldn’t agree with HB 1310.
Police are held to “unreasonable expectations,” said Mosbrucker, adding later: “They’re faced with … split-second decisions that you and I normally don’t have to face.”