OLYMPIA – Washington legislators took a major step today to hold police officers accountable for their actions.
Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond), Rep. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek), and Rep. Bill Ramos (D-Issaquah) filed three bills that would hold law enforcement officers to a high standard of honesty, create a duty to intervene and report when fellow officers break department regulations, and increase public scrutiny when officers are charged with using deadly force.
“We have been working closely with communities who have been suffering violence at the hands of the police,” said Dhingra, who is sponsoring all three bills in the Senate. “These measures will help keep communities safe by holding officers to the high standards that Washingtonians expect and deserve. They will provide more tools and support to the vast majority of officers who are already living up to these high standards.”
One bill requires officers to intervene if they see fellow officers using excessive force and, when force is used, to render aid to the victim at the first safe opportunity. One of the most widely adopted reforms in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, this reform aims to change the practices and culture in law enforcement to prevent similar tragedies in Washington. The bill also requires officers to report any action by fellow officers that breaks department regulations.
A second bill would address the credibility of testimony by law enforcement officers. It would set up a process to establish statewide policies shedding light on officers who are on prosecutor-held “Brady” lists because of any history that could call their credibility into question. The bill would also require departments to inquire whether new hires are on Brady lists kept by their last jurisdictions.
“Law enforcement officers are public servants who do a tough and dangerous job,” said Lovick, who served as Snohomish County Sheriff after a long career in the State Patrol and is sponsoring these bills in the House. “These reforms will help prevent tragedies, save lives, and build trust between the men and women wearing the badge and the communities they serve.”
A third bill would provide meaningful transparency about investigations and charging decisions made after deadly force is used by police. Initiative 940, passed by the voters of Washington in 2018, already requires independent investigations into these cases. This bill would expand public scrutiny by providing for the state auditor’s office to undertake standardized review to assure that investigations were conducted according to the new protocols.
“The overwhelming majority of Washington’s law enforcement officers are doing their jobs with integrity and honor. They are committed to protecting and serving their communities, that’s a fact and I am deeply grateful for their dedication and diligence,” said Ramos, who is sponsoring the bill in the House. “To fully address the questions that arise in cases where deadly force is used, we need more transparency in our accountability processes, and that’s precisely what this bill would provide.”
The full text of the bills will be available here in the coming days. The 105-day legislative session begins on Jan. 11, 2021.