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

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.

Adjacent posts