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

Friday, February 26th, 2021

Manka Dhingra’s “duty to intervene” police accountability bill gets State Senate approval

On Tues­day, the Wash­ing­ton State Sen­ate approved a bill that would require police offi­cers to inter­vene against wrong­do­ing by fel­low law enforce­ment officers.

SB 5066, intro­duced by Sen­a­tor Man­ka Dhin­gra (D‑Redmond), a North­west Pro­gres­sive Foun­da­tion board­mem­ber, is the lat­est in a series of police reform bills that Democ­rats have intro­duced to the state leg­is­la­ture in response to demands by Black Lives Mat­ter and oth­er groups to fun­da­men­tal­ly change the nature of polic­ing, demands giv­en urgency by the death of George Floyd in Min­neapo­lis and the social jus­tice and antiracism move­ment that was ampli­fied by his murder.

SB 5066 has three key provisions.

First­, the bill cre­ates a legal require­ment for police offi­cers when they see a fel­low offi­cer engage in exces­sive force to act direct­ly to stop the per­pe­tra­tor and deliv­er first aid to the vic­tim if necessary.

One exam­ple of such an action came dur­ing the protest move­ment of last year, when a viral video showed a Seat­tle Police Depart­ment offi­cer forcibly remove his colleague’s knee from the neck of a pro­test­er after tap­ping him to stop.

Seattle PD officers confront protesters, July 2021

Seat­tle PD offi­cers con­front pro­test­ers, July 2021 (Pho­to: Derek Sime­one, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Sec­ond­, the law requires offi­cers to report wrong­do­ing (whether exces­sive force or oth­er actions that vio­late pro­fes­sion­al and eth­i­cal stan­dards) to their supe­ri­ors, while for­bid­ding those supe­ri­ors from pun­ish­ing the whistleblower.

Final­ly, the bill requires law enforce­ment agen­cies in the state to imple­ment these poli­cies (known as “duty to inter­vene” poli­cies) by June of 2022.

If the bill is signed into law, Wash­ing­ton will be one of the first states to cod­i­fy the “duty to inter­vene” into state law, but such reg­u­la­tions are already fair­ly com­mon­place in the inter­nal poli­cies of police depart­ments across the nation.

Many agen­cies, such as the Dal­las Police Depart­ment and the Char­lotte-Meck­­len­burg Police Depart­ment, have begun insti­gat­ing “duty to inter­vene” rules in response to the death of George Floyd. Rather dis­cour­ag­ing­ly, Min­neapo­lis has had this pol­i­cy on the books since 2016, but it did­n’t help George Floyd.

Sen­a­tor Dhin­gra argued in a press release that the law would empow­er respon­si­ble police offi­cers while let­ting vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties feel heard.

Senator Manka Dhingra at NPI's Virtual Gala

Sen­a­tor Man­ka Dhin­gra, a North­west Pro­gres­sive Foun­da­tion board­mem­ber, speak­ing at NPI’s twelfth Spring Fundrais­ing Gala, held vir­tu­al­ly (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Pro­gres­sive Institute)

“I have had the plea­sure of work­ing with many law enforce­ment offi­cers in my pre­vi­ous career as a senior deputy pros­e­cu­tor, and the vast major­i­ty are com­mit­ted to doing the right thing,” said Sen­a­tor Dhin­gra. “They hold them­selves up to high eth­i­cal stan­dard. This bill is about empow­er­ing our good offi­cers to hold their peers to the same high stan­dard. We have been work­ing close­ly with com­mu­ni­ties that have been suf­fer­ing vio­lence at the hands of the police, as well as with law enforce­ment offi­cers. This bill will help keep com­mu­ni­ties safe and will pro­vide the tools and sup­port to rein­force a healthy cul­ture in law enforcement.”

Dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing of the Sen­ate Law and Jus­tice Com­mit­tee a vari­ety of law enforce­ment groups praised the bill, with James Schrimpser (Chief of Police of Algo­na and Vice Pres­i­dent of the Wash­ing­ton Fra­ter­nal Order of Police) sum­ma­riz­ing many of his col­leagues’ atti­tudes with a telling anec­dote: “I walked into the office today and an offi­cer asked me, “Chief, isn’t this already a thing?” I answered, “Yes, this is a thing, we’re just cod­i­fy­ing it.””

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Wash­ing­ton Asso­ci­a­tion of Sher­iffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) and the Wash­ing­ton Coun­cil of Police and Sher­iffs (WACOPS) were less enthu­si­as­tic. While claim­ing to approve of the intent of the bill, and prais­ing Sen. Dhin­gra for bring­ing it for­ward, they argued that the def­i­n­i­tion of terms such as “wrong­do­ing” and “exces­sive force” should be nar­rowed in the bill’s language.

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers seized upon this argu­ment to offer a a slew of amend­ments to change the lan­guage of the bill, almost all of which would have cre­at­ed loop­holes which would allow police to avoid full com­pli­ance with the spir­it of the law. One pro­pos­al called for law enforce­ment offi­cers affil­i­at­ed with out-of-state agen­cies to be exempt – call­ing to mind the Trump regime fly­ing unac­count­able fed­er­al forces into Port­land and Seat­tle to quell anti-racist protests last summer.

For­tu­nate­ly, these amend­ments were all vot­ed down one by one by the Senate’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic major­i­ty. SB 5066 was then passed 28–21, with the vote split along par­ty lines. The roll call for the bill was as follows:

Roll Call
SB 5066
Offi­cer duty to intervene
3rd Read­ing & Final Passage

Yeas: 28; Nays: 21

Vot­ing Yea: Sen­a­tors Bil­lig, Car­lyle, Cleve­land, Con­way, Darneille, Das, Dhin­gra, Frockt, Hasegawa, Hobbs, Hunt, Keis­er, Kud­er­er, Liias, Lovelett, Mul­let, Nguyen, Nobles, Ped­er­sen, Ran­dall, Robin­son, Rolfes, Sal­daña, Salomon, Stan­ford, Van De Wege, Well­man, Wil­son (Claire)

Vot­ing Nay: Sen­a­tors Braun, Brown, Dozi­er, Erick­sen, For­tu­na­to, Gildon, Hawkins, Holy, Hon­ey­ford, King, McCune, Muz­za­ll, Pad­den, Rivers, Schoesler, Shel­don, Short, Wag­oner, War­nick, Wil­son (Jeff), Wil­son (Lyn­da)

Democ­rats pro­vid­ed all of the votes in sup­port of the bill and Repub­li­cans pro­vid­ed all of the votes in opposition.

The bill has been sent to the state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, where it has until April 11th to be act­ed upon before the req­ui­site cut-off.

The 2021 leg­isla­tive ses­sion will run until April 25th, 2021.

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