Katrina Johnson testifies on police reform
Katrina Johnson testifies on police reform

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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