Tag: state senate

Police Accountability Is On the Agenda in the Upcoming Legislative Session

Washington State Capitol (Credit: Creative Commons)

By Paul Kiefer

On December 24, Washington State Reps. Debra Entenman (D-47) and Jesse Johnson (D-20) filed legislation that would set statewide restrictions on law enforcement tactics, including bans on chokeholds, tear gas and the use of unleashed police dogs for arrests. Less than a week later, state senators Manka Dhingra (D-45) and Jaime Pedersen (D-43) filed a related bill that would expand the jurisdiction of the state’s Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC), a group appointed by the governor that has the power to certify and decertify law enforcement officers—to give or revoke their license to work as a law enforcement officer in the state.

In the upcoming state legislative session, another half-dozen members of the house and senate Democratic caucuses plan to add their own bills to the pile of state-level reform proposals that, if passed, could dramatically reshape the role of the state government in law enforcement accountability.

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The Dhingra-Pedersen bill is the key to many of the proposed reforms. Under current state law, the CJTC has to wait until a law enforcement agency fires an officer before considering whether to decertify that officer, which allows officers facing misconduct charges to move to new jurisdictions before they can be fired. The proposed legislation would expand the commission’s powers, allowing it to decertify law enforcement officers at its own discretion, including officers who retire or resign in lieu of termination.

The bill would also require law enforcement agencies to report any serious use-of-force incidents to the commission, as well as any preliminary misconduct allegations or criminal charges of which their officers are found guilty. The commission would use that information to identify officers whose misconduct is bad enough to merit decertification.

“Tactical restrictions, a duty to intervene or report excessive force—those things become meaningful when you have a way to enforce a statewide standard.”—State Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-43)

While the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the group representing the state’s law enforcement leadership, has not publicly opposed the expansion of the CJTC’s power, Pedersen told PubliCola that some in police leadership have argued that the proposal stifles their voice in police discipline. But Pedersen added that expanding the power of the CJTC might help break down some barriers to accountability posed by local police unions. “One of the big problems in the current system is that almost all policy enforcement happens on a local level, and therefore is subject to the collective bargaining process and the arbitration process,” he said. “But tactical restrictions, a duty to intervene or report excessive force—those things become meaningful when you have a way to enforce a statewide standard.”

The bill would also reduce those sheriffs’ and police chiefs’ roles in the CJTC itself, by increasing the number of commission seats reserved for community members from 2 to 5, while decreasing the number of seats reserved for law enforcement representatives from 10 to 6.

While some of the proposed restrictions, such as a ban on “hot pursuits” in police vehicles, could stir up resistance from SPD, the inclusion of a ban on tear gas could also place the department in a legal bind.

The police tactics legislation filed by Entenman and Johnson would create a new set of statewide standards that the CJTC could enforce. Three of the eight tactical and equipment restrictions included in the bill are already part of the Seattle Police Department’s manual—bans on neck restraints; firing at moving vehicles; and intentionally concealing a badge. But those policies have not spread to many other departments statewide, so the legislation would hold those departments to the same standards as SPD.

While some of the proposed restrictions, such as a ban on “hot pursuits” in police vehicles, could stir up resistance from SPD, the inclusion of a ban on tear gas could also place the department in a legal bind. In July, Judge James Robart, the federal district court judge who oversees police reform in Seattle for the Department of Justice in an arrangement called a consent decree, ruled that Seattle couldn’t forbid officers from using tear gas during protest response; if Entenman and Johnson’s bill is successful, Seattle could face a choice between following state law and following orders from a federal judge. Continue reading “Police Accountability Is On the Agenda in the Upcoming Legislative Session”

Charging “Ethnic Discrimination,” Dems Seek to Stop Vote on 37th State Senate Appointment

Members of the 37th District Democrats have filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the King County Council from voting to fill the state Senate seat left vacant by the election of Sen. Pramila Jayapal to Congress in November. [UPDATE: According to Knoll Lowney, one of the attorneys representing the Democratic Party members seeking to stop the appointment of a new 37th District state senator, a judge has rejected the Democrats’ request for a temporary restraining order. The order would have enjoined the King County Council from appointing a successor to Pramila Jayapal, who was elected to represent the 7th Congressional District last month. Lowney says that more than who ultimately gets appointed, “it’s critically important that we not have a process that is flawed.” The next hearing in the case is scheduled for December 23; the county council could vote on Monday, or decide on their own to wait.

Original post follows.]

The plaintiffs, calling themselves Democrats for Diversity and Inclusion, argue in their complaint that the appointment process was effectively rigged to preclude certain precinct committee officers (PCOs) from participating, leading to the nomination of Rory O’Sullivan, the white former chairman of the district, to represent the majority-minority 37th in the Senate. The King County Council is ultimately responsible for appointing legislators to fill vacant seats, but they typically follow the lead of the PCOs. However, they are not required to do so, and have diverged from that practice in the past, as Josh Feit pointed out on PubliCola this week.

In addition to stopping the vote scheduled for Monday, the lawsuit seeks to force the King County Democratic Central Committee to hold a second vote, this one including all the appointed PCOs (PCOs who were appointed by other PCOs, in this case PCOs from parts of the district that are more heavily populated by people of color) excluded from the process, and submit the list of candidates that results from that process to the council for a decision. (According to the lawsuit, 115 PCOs were excluded from voting; of the 106 who were eligible under the disputed rules, 82 voted.)

In 2012, the 37th was created explicitly as a majority-minority district, and the second- and third-place runners-up in the PCO vote were Puget Sound Sage director Rebecca Saldana and Shasti Conrad, both women of color. Another woman of color, NAACP leader Sheley Secrest, was also in the running. The lawsuit claims the exclusion of the appointed PCOs constitutes deliberate “ethnic discrimination” that led to the choice of O’Sullivan instead of one of the many people of color on the ballot. “The 115 PCOs who were illegally disenfranchised represent more than 40,000 registered 37th District voters in precincts that are primarily African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants and People of Color,” the proposed order says.

It continues:

In total disregard for state law and party rules and to create a favorable electorate for certain candidates, former KCDCC Chair Richard Erwin delayed the nominating caucus until the terms of all 115 appointed PCOs expired, but before the party organization could reconvene to appoint replacement PCOs. KCDCC then refused all appointed PCOs their right to vote in the nominating caucus, something that is unprecedented in the history of the 37th District. Such procedural gamesmanship is not permitted. Party rules explicitly mandate that the nominating caucus include both elected and appointed PCOs. Furthermore, federal and state law prohibit KCDCC from disenfranchising and discriminating against appointed PCOs.

A hearing is reportedly under way right now in King County Superior Court; I’ll post an update when the court issues a ruling on the case. Read the full complaint here, and the proposed order enjoining the county council from voting here.

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