Ending Police Violence

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Washington state lawmakers are considering several bold and impactful ideas to curb police violence, like requiring de-escalation in most situations, prohibiting certain deadly tactics, establishing independent criminal investigations of deadly force incidents, strengthening civil accountability, and removing police accountability from collective bargaining. This blog post will discuss three of these efforts.

What will it take to stop violence by police? Last summer, tens of thousands of protesters rallied in cities throughout America to highlight the urgent need to address that question. Yet here in Washington, officers continue to kill dozens of people each year despite voters passing Initiative 940 more than two years ago, which set new standards for use of deadly force and established requirements for law enforcement to receive de-escalation, mental health, and first-aid training.

The ACLU of Washington has worked closely with the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability (WCPA), a network led by families who have lost loved ones to police use of deadly force, to strategize solutions aimed at ending the violence. These families are closest to the pain and disillusionment that radiates from police violence ending the life of a family and community member. They have navigated and examined the systems that produce these outcomes, and they have strong ideas about how to transform these systems to prevent other families from experiencing what they have endured.

Banning deadly and dangerous tactics

One WCPA priority is Representative Jesse Johnson’s peace officer tactics bill, HB 1054. This bill bans certain tactics and equipment that cause severe harm and are disproportionately used against people of color. It prohibits numerous dangerous maneuvers, weapons, and procedures such as:
  • chokeholds, like the one that killed George Floyd;
  • neck restraints, a broader category of holds that killed Eric Garner;
  • the use of police dogs during arrests;
  • the use of tear gas;
  • the acquisition and deployment of military equipment; and
  • no-knock warrants, like the one that resulted in the killing of Breonna Taylor.
Prohibiting police use of deadly and dangerous tactics should reduce the most tragic outcomes, but we can’t stop there.

Making de-escalation the standard

Rep. Johnson is sponsoring another bill, HB 1310, that creates an expectation for officers to de-escalate and requires police to exercise care in the use of any force against a member of the public. To support HB 1310, sign in as PRO by clicking this link (deadline Friday 1/29 at 9:00am).

Current state law allows police to complete an arrest by any means necessary. That is a broad authorization of power to use an unlimited amount of force whenever an officer believes probable cause exists to make an arrest.

This bill will make it clear that all Washington law enforcement officers are expected to use their de-escalation training, without resorting to use of force unless circumstances require it. It replaces the current arrest law with a statewide standard that limits the use of force to certain circumstances, and only allows deadly force to be used as a last resort when necessary to prevent serious injury or death to the officer or others. Law enforcement officers would be required to use reasonable care when deciding whether to use force, taking into consideration specific circumstances such as someone experiencing a mental health crisis, disability, youth, pregnancy, limited English proficiency, or the presence of children. This bill is necessary to limit the scope of a police or corrections officer’s authority to use force against the public.

Removing legal barriers to holding officers and their agencies accountable

For these standards to be effective, they must be enforceable. The state legislature must remove barriers to holding officers accountable when they abuse their powers, and to compensate people who have suffered harm at the hands of police. Representative My-Linh Thai’s Peace Officer Accountability Act (POAA) HB 1202 does just that. To support HB 1202, sign in as PRO by clicking this link (deadline Tuesday 1/26 at 9:00am).

When police violate a person’s rights, there are barriers to holding them accountable, like qualified immunity from civil liability. The POAA eliminates these obstacles by creating a new legal path to hold officers accountable for misconduct and makes departments liable for bad hiring, inadequate training, and negligent disciplining. The bill expands access to justice by allowing attorney fee and cost recovery if the victim wins their lawsuit, and it allows the Attorney General’s office to investigate and bring a lawsuit to address patterns of wrongdoing by officers and departments.

When an officer hurts or kills someone without consequence, the message to victims and families is that they are not valued by our society, and officers have no incentive to change bad behavior. Community trust is eroded, and everyone is less safe. It is a fact that Black, brown and Indigenous communities are disproportionately impacted by policing and police violence.

Passing these bills is an important step toward advancing racial justice, preventing and deterring future police violence and, when such abuse occurs, increasing the chances its victims are compensated for the harms suffered. These bills will make our communities safer.

Here’s what you can do

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