NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, November 30th, 2020

House Public Safety Committee reviews ideas for police reform ahead of 2021 session

This after­noon, the House Pub­lic Safe­ty Com­mit­tee, along with speak­ers from a mul­ti­tude of orga­ni­za­tions and back­grounds, con­vened vir­tu­al­ly to dis­cuss pos­si­ble police reform mea­sures and leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als for the State of Wash­ing­ton.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Roger Good­man (D‑45th Dis­trict: Red­mond, Kirk­land, Wood­inville, Sam­mamish) chaired the meet­ing, which heard pre­sen­ta­tions from invit­ed guests.

Mem­bers of the Wash­ing­ton Coali­tion for Police Account­abil­i­ty (WCPA) voiced their grave con­cerns about ongo­ing police bru­tal­i­ty and vio­lence, par­tic­u­lar­ly against BIPOC indi­vid­u­als. WCPA mem­bers showed great uni­ty in demand­ing increased account­abil­i­ty and trans­paren­cy from law enforce­ment agencies.

The WCPA empha­sized the need for deesca­la­tion tac­tics pri­or to any use of lethal force. Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Brad Klip­pert argued that deesca­la­tion is not always pos­si­ble, espe­cial­ly in sit­u­a­tions where the offi­cer must act in self-defense.

Fol­low­ing this exchange, there was a brief dis­cus­sion about the use of choke­holds; with many speak­ers assert­ing that con­stric­tion tech­niques are inhu­mane and often result in peo­ple dying at the hands of police offi­cers. (NPI sup­ports out­law­ing the use of choke­holds by law enforcement.)

Pas­tor Wal­ter Kendricks, speak­ing on behalf of Wash­ing­ton for Black Lives, deliv­ered a short speech cit­ing both the Bible and the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence to dri­ve home the impor­tance of equal­i­ty before the law.

Both Anne Levin­son, a for­mer judge, and Tim Burgess, a for­mer Seat­tle city coun­cil pres­i­dent and inter­im may­or, out­lined frame­works for reform leg­is­la­tion. Some of the mea­sures con­tem­plat­ed include:

  • manda­to­ry base­line training
  • giv­ing a ver­bal warn­ing before using force
  • requir­ing all offi­cers to report mis­con­duct they see
  • increas­ing com­mu­ni­ty oversight

For­mer King Coun­ty Sher­iff Sue Rahr argued that pun­ish­ment alone will not spur mean­ing­ful change in law enforce­ment. Rahr says that a deep exam­i­na­tion of his­to­ry is nec­es­sary to break down the deeply biased belief sys­tems of individuals.

Speak­ing for peo­ple work­ing in law enforce­ment, mem­bers from the Wash­ing­ton Asso­ci­a­tion of Sher­iffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC), the Wash­ing­ton Coun­cil of Police and Sher­iffs (WACOPS), Wash­ing­ton Fra­ter­nal Order of Police, and Wash­ing­ton State Patrol Troop­ers Asso­ci­a­tion out­lined ways in which they planned to assist and abide by cur­rent and pro­posed legislation.

James McMa­han from WASPC told law­mak­ers it is vital­ly impor­tant that we adopt a statewide stan­dard­ized train­ing pro­gram con­cern­ing use of force, which he said should include edu­ca­tion on implic­it bias and his­to­ry of race and law enforce­ment, tying into ear­li­er points made by for­mer Sher­iff Sue Rahr.

Reform advo­cates are par­tic­u­lar­ly keen to abol­ish pri­vate arbi­tra­tion in tri­als of offi­cers who have been sus­pend­ed or fired for mis­con­duct. In 52% of cas­es, pri­vate arbi­tra­tors have reduced or over­turned offi­cer dis­ci­pline, while in 42% of cas­es arbi­tra­tors have ordered law enforce­ment lead­ers to rehire officers.

All the speak­ers agreed that appeals should be open to pub­lic scruti­ny and be guid­ed by polic­ing stan­dards, which has not been the case in the past.

Requir­ing greater trans­paren­cy could help rebuild shat­tered pub­lic con­fi­dence in law enforce­ment agen­cies and allow sys­temic racism to be more effec­tive­ly con­front­ed. House Pub­lic Safe­ty Chair Roger Good­man promised as he end­ed the meet­ing to con­tin­ue review­ing the ideas pre­sent­ed so that the Leg­is­la­ture can be ready to move mean­ing­ful leg­is­la­tion in the 2021 leg­isla­tive session.

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