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Police reform: Bill in Washington Legislature moves closer to finish line

by Angelica Relente, Herald Legislative Writer
| April 8, 2021 1:00 AM

The Washington state Senate passed legislation in a 27-22 vote, during a virtual debate Tuesday, to reform police tactics and equipment. The bill will now return to the House to consider the Senate’s amendments.

House Bill 1054 would ban the use of chokeholds and neck restraints during the course of an officer’s duties, according to the bill’s text. The Criminal Justice Training Commission would also be required to develop policies regarding the use of K-9s.

Guidelines on the use of tear gas would also be established under HB 1054. Officers may not use tear gas unless necessary to alleviate riots inside a correctional facility, barricaded subject or hostage situation, according to the bill’s text.

Vehicular pursuits would also have certain limitations under HB 1054. Officers may not engage in vehicular pursuits unless there is probable cause to believe an individual committed a violent offense, among other things, according to the bill’s text.

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said during the virtual legislative debate law enforcement officers who were trained and “trusted to be guardians of our community” sometimes deploy tactics that harm people instead.

“There is no one in this chamber who wishes harm to come to those who protect and serve us,” Pedersen said. “(We) want to make sure that they’re protecting everyone in our community and doing it with care. This bill is a statement of those values.”

Law enforcement agencies would also be prohibited from having certain military equipment, according to the bill’s text. Agencies must create an inventory list of military equipment and provide reasoning for why the equipment is necessary to them.

Law enforcement agencies must also ensure officers wearing their uniforms are “reasonably identifiable while on duty,” according to the bill’s text. No-knock warrants would be prohibited under HB 1054 as well.

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, voted against HB 1054. She said in an interview with the Herald she was not happy with the passage of the bill because it will make it harder for officers to keep their communities safe.

“We have people who are trying to, in my opinion, tell policemen how to do their job (and) what tools to use,” Warnick said. “The general feeling in some areas of our state is that police … need to be controlled. I don’t believe that.”

Warnick said there are some bad officers but “not very many.” HB 1054 and other police reform-related bills may make officers doubt their judgment when engaging in situations during which they only have a few seconds to act upon.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, said during the virtual legislative debate bills like HB 1054 will put police officers in riskier situations as the bill would eliminate the tools and procedures they use to protect people and themselves.

“Why in the world would anyone want to be a police officer under these circumstances?” King said.

Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, said during the virtual legislative debate HB 1054 is needed to make fundamental changes in the state’s policies. As a white woman of privilege, she does not have to worry about many things people of color do.

“I don’t worry when a policeman comes to my car,” Wellman said. “I don’t sit there, wondering whether this is going to be a life (or) death situation, but I do know that that is the situation for my friends of color.”

Sen. Jim McCune, R-Graham, had an amendment that would remove the prohibition on the use of neck restraints and require the CJTC to conduct a study on whether it is considered a deadly force. His amendment was not adopted into HB 1054.

“This is an important tool for protecting our community,” McCune said during the virtual legislative debate. “I don’t want to see it go away.”

Pedersen said when trained officers deploy neck restraints in the heat of the moment, they do so incorrectly 70% of the time. The Legislature needs to make a statement that tactics like this are unsafe and should not be used.

The House passed HB 1054 on Feb. 27 in a 54-43 vote. April 25 is the last day for this year’s state legislative session.