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”