2 big changes for police use-of-force in Washington state
Amid widespread calls for greater police accountability, Washington state is slated to create an office that will independently investigate serious use-of-force incidents. Along with this office will come a publicly-accessible database documenting police use-of-force incidents.
Several other bills surrounding police reform are close to passage.
House Bill 1267 was passed on Wednesday. It mandates the creation of a state office of investigation for serious use-of-force incidents by July 2022. In addition to carrying out use-of-force probes, the office would be tasked with recommending whether or not to criminally prosecute the officers it investigates.
Also passed on Wednesday was Senate Bill 5259, requiring the creation of a statewide use-of-force database. The bill received significant bipartisan support in both the House and Senate.
Previously, the public reporting of use-of-force incidents was not mandated on the state level. That information had to be obtained through public records requests or proactively disclosed by law enforcement agencies, if not publicly shared by victims or their families.
“Specifically, communities of color face disproportionately negative outcomes from interactions with law enforcement," said Sen. T’wina Nobles (D-Fircrest), who sponsored the bill, in a written statement. "However, without data, it is impossible to comprehensively track and address. The data captured by Senate Bill 5259 will enable better allocation of resources, and more effective assessment of current police reform strategies."
Other bills still under consideration
Meanwhile, other police reform bills regarding officer decertification standards, use-of-force tactics, and duty of care have garnered a lot of support in the Legislature, but still require a final vote.
"Each one of these bills addresses a different component of reenvisioning and reimagining policing," said Elaine Simons, an advocate with the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability. "What it comes down to is holding police officers accountable."
Simons is a vocal supporter of a bill, still pending, that would lower the bar for decertifying officers in Washington state. Currently, an officer's certification can only be revoked if their misconduct falls within limited categories, rising to criminal offenses. The state has decertified roughly 230 law enforcement officers since 2003.
In 2019, Simons' foster son Jesse Sarey became the third person within three years to be killed by Auburn police officer Jeffrey Nelson, who still awaits trial. She said she wants to see a higher standard for remaining on the force, and more consequences for officers who demonstrate a pattern of harmful behavior.
"In the case of officer Jeff Nelson who is now facing criminal charges for the killing of my foster son, Jesse Sarey, if he was held accountable for the first killing of Brian Scaman or the second killing of Isaiah Obet, my foster son would be alive today."
Simons added that she hopes Washingtonians will take the time to familiarize themselves with the police reform laws that have passed and those that still hang in the balance.
"A lot of these impacted families are telling their stories, advocating, and bearing witness to these bills that they themselves will not benefit from," she said. "They're doing it to prevent other families from going through the same pain and loss."