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Police reform measures mount in Washington state after deaths of those in police custody

Seattle police officers during a protest in 2020. (KOMO)
Seattle police officers during a protest in 2020. (KOMO)
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The death of George Floyd while in police custody and similar incidents have prompted sweeping reforms in police accountability and use of force even though Washington state lawmakers said it was unfortunate that it took tragedies to spur the changes.

But the result, the lawmakers say, will result in better outcomes for communities and law enforcement agencies.

Within hours of the jury handing down a guilty verdict for former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, the Washington state Senate passed a bill that requires police to intervene if a fellow officer is using excessive force.

It was part of a whole package of sweeping reforms for local law enforcement agencies.

“I think we are going to enact what I believe is the strongest police accountability legislative package in the country,” said state Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland).

Among the bills on the way to governor’s desk for signature include:

  • A bill that establishes an independent use of force investigation office within the governor’s office.
  • A proposal requiring reasonable care when officers resort to the use of force, including exhausting de-escalation techniques.
  • A measure that orders the collection of data on police departments' use of force so the state can better understand how and when officers do so.

“We think that’s very important if we want to talk about true and equitable policing,” said Rep. Debra Entenman (D-Kent). “We need to know who police are stopping and what their interactions are.”

Lawmakers still have to hammer out a compromise bill restricting the use of tear gas, choke holds and neck restraints and banning no-knock warrants.

Many state Republicans said the proposals go too far.

“A lot of the bills have been strongly one-sided, not taking input from across the spectrum and I fear they’re going to undercut the ability of our law enforcement officials to do their job in a way that is safe for them and safe for their community,” said Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia).

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“We’re going to see if police are afraid to take any chances that in some cases might save people or property,” said Rep. J.T. Wilcox (R-Yelm).

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