Tue. Jun 15th, 2021

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a dozen bills today that will improve accountability for law enforcement in Washington state, and will create the nation’s strongest police accountability system. The governor, joined by community members and families of those impacted, signed the bills at the Eastside Community Center in Tacoma.

The governor signed legislation that will create an Office of Independent Investigations that reports to the governor, prohibit certain uses of force and will require more thorough oversight requirements for hiring and for reporting misconduct.

“The crises of the past year have unmasked long-standing inequities in our society. The consciousness of our state and nation has been raised against inequity in many forms,” Inslee said. “Our moral mandate to acknowledge these hard truths crystallized in the fallout from the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, and the killing of Manny Ellis in Tacoma. The bills I am signing today respect these truths and lay a solid foundation to halt inequity’s pernicious influence in our systems of government.”

Katrina Johnson — cousin of Charleena Lyles who was killed in Seattle in June of 2017 —praised the legislation being signed and thanked the governor and state for allowing impacted families to lead in policy discussions, as they are “experts of [their] experience.”

“To the impacted families, take a bow in knowing your loved ones death is not in vain,” Johnson said. “Today, we stand united in strength and bonded together in pain and blood. We celebrate on this bill signing day, and tomorrow it is back to work on implementation.”

House Bill 1267

Included in the package was HB 1267, sponsored by Rep. Debra Entenman, that will create a new office to conduct competent, unbiased investigations of police use of excessive force. These investigations will be required to be truly independent of the involved law enforcement agency. Releasing such investigations from any hint of conflicts of interest will improve accountability, transparency and the public’s confidence.

Last year, the governor convened a task force comprised of these individuals as well as representatives of law enforcement. HB 1267 reflects the recommendations of that task force.

The legislation was made possible due to tireless advocacy of families and communities hurt most by inequitable application of violence.

“This legislation will be complemented by legislation concerning state oversight and accountability of peace officers, requirements for tactics, permissible uses of force and other crucial legislation awaiting my signature today,” Inslee said.

Rep. Entenman thanked impacted families and communities for their continued advocacy.

“The new Office of Independent Investigation will increase transparency and trust in investigations of deadly uses of force by law enforcement. I want to thank the families of victims of police violence who courageously showed up again and again to change a system that provided them with no accountability and no justice,” Entenman said. “Their will to prevent other families from suffering as they have was a source of inspiration and motivation. I also want to thank the Governor’s Task Force, community members, and the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability for helping pass this first in the nation policy. Our premise is simple: police shouldn’t be investigating other police. This new office will help us build trust between the community and law enforcement by ensuring that there is accountability for unnecessary police violence.”

Senate Bill 5051

The governor also signed SB 5051, sponsored by Sen. Jamie Pedersen, which will increase oversight and accountability requirements for the state’s law enforcement and corrections officers.

To increase transparency and accountability, the bill:

  • Changes certification and background check requirements for police officers,

Under this legislation, the public may now see the results of internal investigations and know whether an officer was previously held accountable for misconduct.

“The public outcry over a series of high-profile deaths of members of Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities has now led to the most significant new accountability measures in our state’s history,” said Pedersen, chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee. “The killing of George Floyd, Manuel Ellis, Charleena Lyles, John T. Williams and many others compelled us to craft laws to protect our whole community by limiting police use of force, increasing transparency, and improving accountability.”

House Bill 1054

The killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year brought a newfound attention to use-of-force tactics employed by law enforcement officers. HB 1054, sponsored by Rep. Jesse Johnson, responds to those valid concerns and establishes requirements for tactics and equipment used by officers.

The bill prohibits chokeholds and neck restraints, restricts vehicular pursuits, and limits the use of tear gas. It creates a consistent statewide standard for these tactics, and provides greater oversight when they are employed by officers.

“Because of the families that turned their unimaginable pain into purpose to provide a trajectory for these bills we would not be here today. But as Katrina Johnson said, we have to keep going. It’s not just a moment, it’s a movement,” Sen. Johnson said. “Meaning we have to remain in momentum, we have to remain vigilant to make sure these policies are enforced on the ground tomorrow. But today, we can celebrate the fact that we came together. Justice is just us coming together to transform the system.”

“Many of these tactics have been used disproportionately against people of color, and are seen as a means of suppression of lawful activities, including free speech,” Inslee said. “This is an important step toward ensuring that all people are treated equally by Washington law enforcement officers.”

Additional police accountability legislation

The governor signed nine additional bills aimed at improving accountability and confidence in law enforcement statewide. Those include:

  • HB 1310 (J. Johnson) Concerning permissible uses of force

Rep. Strom Peterson, sponsor of HB 1223, said that this legislation is a first step toward regaining public trust.

“At its most basic, recording interrogations will keep innocent people out of jail and prison. This is especially true when it comes to young individuals who might not fully understand their rights,” said Peterson. “This bill will bring more transparency and accountability to law enforcement, both of which are crucial right now to re-establish trust among the communities they serve.”

“We worked closely with communities who have been suffering violence at the hands of the police,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, vice chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee and bill sponsor. “These measures will help keep communities safe by holding officers to the high ethical standards that Washingtonians expect and deserve. They will provide more tools and support to the vast majority of officers who are already living up to these high standards.”

“In some situations, civil liability is a vital avenue for those seeking justice to have their day in court,” said Sen. David Frockt, a bill sponsor. “Changes to standards signed into law today will make our law more rational and fair so that the search for truth can be fully realized, wherever its outcomes lead.”

“Most law enforcement officers are doing a great job and this bill will highlight when deadly use of force incidents are investigated well and procedures are followed through in a professional manner. But it will also show where we are falling short and how we can do better,” said Rep. Bill Ramos, prime sponsor of House Bill 1089. “I was proud to partner with multiple stakeholders including the State Auditor’s Office, law enforcement organizations and advocates, to craft a bill that both, increases accountability and showcases when good work is done.”

“By collecting and reporting data, we have a critical opportunity to build community trust through transparency,” said Sen. T’wina Nobles, sponsor of SB 5259. “The data captured by Senate Bill 5259 will enable better allocation of resources, and more effective assessment of current police reform strategies.”

“I would remind people where all of this effort has brought us. It has brought us not to the end of something, but to a new beginning,” Inslee said. “All of our work remains ahead of us. Today we celebrate the blueprint this legislation codifies for the people of justice, and now it’s up to us to effectuate it.”