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Senate passes legislation on collecting use-of-force data

by Angelica Relente, Herald Legislative Writer
| March 3, 2021 1:00 AM

Law enforcement agencies in Washington may be required to submit use-of-force data if a Senate bill in this year’s legislative session is signed into law.

Senate Bill 5259 passed in a 46-2 vote during a virtual floor debate Monday. The bill would authorize the state attorney general to establish a statewide database that collects information on law enforcement officers’ use of force, according to the bill’s text.

The attorney general would choose a private or public university to design, develop and manage the data, according to the bill’s text. All law enforcement agencies in the state would be required to report the use of force data to the university.

Sen. T’wina Nobles, D-Fircrest, is SB 5259’s primary sponsor. Nobles said during the virtual floor debate the bill is important to her as a Black woman and mother in Pierce County.

“Once we pass (the police reform bills), we won’t necessarily have a way to determine their efficacy or to track outcomes,” Nobles said. “This bill will help us achieve that.”

Nobles said the tension sparked after the death of Manuel “Manny” Ellis was a result of the police’s lack of transparency, and the state does not have a database on use of force or any type of interaction between the public and officers.

“Because law enforcement agencies are not required to report use of force data ... public distrust continues to grow,” Nobles said.

Ellis, 33, died in police custody March 3, 2020, according to KOMO News. Ellis was walking home from a convenience store when Tacoma officers saw him “force his way into a vehicle” and tried to stop him, during which he “turned violent.”

Sen. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, voted in favor of SB 5259. Warnick said in an interview with the Herald it is better for the state to have its own data rather than relying on what is circulated in social media.

“This gives a system for tracking when use of force happens in any incidents,” Warnick said.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said during the virtual floor debate SB 5259 gained a lot of support from law enforcement officers, unlike the other proposed bills focused on reforms of policing.

SB 5259’s companion, House Bill 1092, is still in the Rules Committee and has yet to be voted on by the House.

During the afternoon session, the Senate also approved SB 5036 (in a 27-21 vote), SB 5164 (28-21), SB 5071 (49-0) and SB 5054 (41-7). The bills will move to House committees.