Calling it a "moral mandate," Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a dozen bills into law on Tuesday that backers hope will improve policing in the state, reduce the use of deadly force and ensure that when deadly encounters do occur, the investigations are thorough and independent.
"These bills are all going to work in coordination with one another to create a system of accountability and integrity stronger than anywhere else in the nation," Inslee said in remarks before he signed the bills.
The focus of the bills runs the gamut from tactics officers use in the field, to how deadly force incidents are investigated, to the circumstances under which officers can be decertified, NPR reports.
The bills signed Tuesday include:
- A bill that bans the use of chokeholds and neck restraints by officers, restricts the use of tear gas by police and prohibits police agencies from acquiring military equipment. The bill also requires uniformed officers to be identifiable to citizens, bars vehicle pursuits except in certain exigent circumstances and bans the use of no-knock search warrants. Additionally, the bill creates a workgroup to develop a statewide policy on the training and use of police dogs.
- A measure that establishes a new Office of Independent Investigations within the governor's office to investigate police deadly force incidents that occur after July 1, 2022. The office will have the authority to investigate earlier incidents if new evidence comes to light. The office will have a director, a team of non-law enforcement investigators and be overseen by an 11-member advisory board. In addition to training on how to conduct criminal investigations, the investigators will also receive training on topics such as the history of racism in policing and implicit and explicit bias.
- A "reasonable care" standard that requires officers to employ de-escalation tactics, use the least amount of physical force necessary and limits the use of deadly force to situations where there's an imminent threat of serious injury or death. The bill requires the Attorney General's office to publish model policies on use of force and de-escalation by July 1, 2022 and that by December 1 of that year all law enforcement agencies adopt policies consistent with that guidance.
- Sweeping changes to the state's Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) which trains and certifies peace officers in Washington. Under this bill, CJTC's mission will expand to focus broadly on the integrity, effectiveness and professionalism of police officers with the goal of promoting public trust and confidence. To that end, the commission itself will expand from 16 to 21 members and add civilians so that the majority of the membership is made up of non-law enforcement representatives. CJTC's authority will also be expanded to give it the ability to temporarily suspend a police officer's certification and make it easier to decertify an officer for misconduct. The bill also expands background checks for would-be officers and creates a publicly searchable database of complaints and disciplinary actions against officers. One of the goals of the legislation is to prevent problematic officers from moving from department to department.
- A requirement that officers intervene if they witness a fellow officer using excessive force and render first aid to the victim if needed. The bill also requires officers to report to a supervisor any wrongdoing they witness on the part of another officer. While individual departments may already have such policies in place, this creates a statewide mandate for all officers.