Washington Governor Approves Nation’s Most Ambitious Police Reform Legislation

On May 18, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee approved a sweeping new police accountability reform bill that many are calling one of the most ambitious ever attempted in the United States.

Gene Johnson of the Associated Press reported that “the dozen of bills Inslee signed include outright bans on police use of chokeholds, neck restraints and no-knock warrants such as the one that helped lead to Breonna Taylor’s killing in Louisville, Kentucky.”

The new bills also require officers to “intervene” in cases where fellow officers may be engaging in excessive force with an individual — a requirement “inspired by the officers who stood by while Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin pressed a knee to George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.”

According to Johnson, “the bills also create an independent office to review the use of deadly force by police, make it easier to decertify police for bad acts and require officers to use ‘reasonable care,’ including exhausting de-escalation tactics, in carrying out their duties. The use of tear gas and car chases are restricted, and it’s easier to sue officers when they inflict injury.”

In a press conference before signing the bills, Inslee told reporters, “as of noon today, we will have the best, most comprehensive, most transparent, most effective police accountability laws in the United States.”

The process of police reform that led to the new legislation began last year when Inslee convened a task force charged with finding ways to guarantee independent investigations of deadly force by the police. The recommendations emerging from the task force guided the direction of the bills that Inslee ultimately approved.

“Under legislation recommended by the task force, the state will have an independent office that will hire regional teams to review such cases,” Johnson reported. “There are restrictions on hiring police or former police officers as investigators, and eventually the investigations will be conducted by civilians with other areas of expertise — such as behavioral health.”

State Rep. Jesse Johnson, who was one of the key lawmakers working to create the bills and ensure their passage, said, “this process was deeply collaborative, deeply visionary and deeply intentional about lifting up every voice, from community to law enforcement.”

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, head of the Washington Senate Law and Justice Committee, publicly apologized to community members at the bill’s signing, saying the state took too long to bring about reform and change.

“Where I find myself is feeling a lot of guilt and shame that for so many years as you have spoken out … too many of us, myself included, stood by and did nothing and tolerated a system infused with racism, because it was comfortable and easy,” Gov. Johnson said.

According to the AP, the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance called the bills’ passage “a potential sea change in how police in Washington interact with people in communities they’re hired to serve — especially Black people, Indigenous people and people of color,” and that it’s now “up to the police, prosecutors, judges, officials and citizens to see that the laws are enforced.”


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