Washington State Enacts Far-Reaching Police Accountability Package

By: - May 21, 2021 12:00 am

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, offers a pen to state representatives at a signing ceremony this week for a package of 12 policing bills. One bill requires officers to intervene when they witness misconduct. Tony Overman/The Associated Press

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee this week signed a package of 12 bills that he said will lead to the strongest police accountability system in the United States.

Signing the bills, Inslee, a Democrat, said he hopes to fix inequities in policing. He also acknowledged the effect George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis last year had on bringing about these measures.

One of the bills Inslee signed will require officers to intervene if they witness fellow officers using excessive force. After three Minneapolis police officers watched as a peer, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes, many police reform activists called on states to mandate peer intervention among officers.

Chauvin was convicted of murder last month. The other three officers at the scene of Floyd’s killing will face trial next March. All four men also face separate federal civil rights charges.

The Washington measure also requires cops to report any wrongdoing of fellow officers to their supervisor, and shields reporting officers from retaliation. Often, the “blue wall of silence” enforces a no-snitch culture in police departments.

Other Washington state measures create an independent state office to investigate police use of excessive force, establish new certification requirements for officers and prohibit the use of chokeholds and neck restraints.

These new laws come as 260 Seattle police officers—around 20% of the force—have left the department in the past year and a half. Officers blame budget cuts and a lack of support from the city, which allowed a police-free zone in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for a month last summer. Seattle will use the 17% reduction in the police budget for still-unspecified community programs.

Washington joins several states that have enacted new measures this year to limit use of force and increase oversight of police departments.

In Wisconsin, the legislature this week passed a bipartisan proposal to limit the use of chokeholds by police officers to only life-threatening situations. It is unclear whether Democratic Gov. Tony Evers will sign the legislation. He proposed an outright ban on chokeholds last year.

Several bipartisan policing bills have failed to pass both houses of the state legislature this year.

Democratic lawmakers in Maryland last month overrode Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a package of legislation that establishes new use-of-force standards and repeals the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights—a powerful tool that has protected officers from disciplinary action. One of the new laws gives civilians a role in police accountability for the first time in the state.

Maryland’s new laws also prohibit life sentences for juveniles and impose stronger criminal penalties for officers who use excessive force.

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.