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Police reform efforts at state level focus on accountability, transparency

A police officer walks outside of the Seattle Police Department's West Precinct on June 10, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)

There has been a lot of discussion and talk about the Seattle City Council’s plans for police reform, but what’s happening at the state level in Olympia?

There are more than 60 potential police reform bills in the works. Last week, the House Public Safety Committee held a hearing to figure out what areas to tackle.

“There are a few top priorities,” Roger Goodman, state Representative and chair of the committee, told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show. “We want to make sure that there are certain prohibited conduct, and certain required conduct of police.”

“Certain tactics have risen to public view, such as the use of chokeholds or neck restraints,” he added. “We would want to ban them, or at least severely limit their use. It’s a use of deadly force, really. The use of tear gas is also very troublesome. That’s prohibited by the conventions of war, how could it be used in our own streets, in our cities?”

Goodman says there are other crowd control measures that could be used instead.

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The committee is also considering the use of no-knock warrants.

“It’s very controversial — on both sides, actually — sometimes it’s necessary because of exigent circumstances to break into a home without notice, but too often have had tragic incidents where they break into a home, it might be the wrong home, and people end up getting killed,” he said. “We’re going to have to have a pretty detailed conversation about that.”

As far as required conduct, Goodman mentioned that the committee wants to require law enforcement officers to report misconduct of their fellow officers and intervene when possible “as a duty, not just in their discretion,” and have a stronger duty to render aid if someone has been injured.

Goodman says the committee has established a team in the House of Representatives as well, of which he is a co-chair, called the Policing Policy Leadership Team. This team includes members of the Black Caucus and members of the Color Caucus, he said. The committee is also working in close coordination with the Senate, Goodman added.

Goodman says they’ve been in “listening mode” for months now, convening meetings with police unions, the sheriff and police chiefs association, community groups, families members of those who have died in interactions with police, youth groups, and with scholars.

“I have to say, everyone seems amenable to reform,” Goodman said. “There’s not a lot of obstructionism or defensiveness. I mean, certainly when we get to the details there’s going to be some dispute, but we really are moving in the right direction. We’re not going have complete consensus, but we have a lot of work to do.”

Washington state, Goodman says, is ahead of a lot of others states in the country in terms of police community relations and police accountability.

“But we still have a lot of work left on the table, so it’s going to be a very busy agenda,” he said. “This issue is at the top of our agenda in the Legislature, along with balancing the budget, but this police reform issue is going to remain at the top of our agenda.”

In a recent testimony and question and answer session with leading national scholars on policing, Goodman admits that it became clear there’s still a lot to learn.

“We don’t necessarily know what works,” he said. “And so the idea is we need to fail early with experiments rather than wait. But I do know that what counts with any public function is accountability and transparency.”

“And so we are going to be strengthening accountability and transparency measures with regard to policing,” he added. “For instance, strengthening the state’s ability to decertify or basically take the license away from an officer who was engaged in egregious misconduct or repeated patterns of misconduct.”

As far as transparency, Goodman says there’s a desire for the public to be able to know more and easily find information about the use of force and other misconduct, as well as disciplinary actions taken.

“The research does show that when law enforcement know that they’re being watched, and if there’s a public database that’s easily accessible about misconduct and actions taken, that their behavior improves,” he said. “Just like anybody else, if they know they’re being watched, they’re going to behave better.”

Moving forward, Goodman hopes to improve on the progress that the state has made.

“We’ve had unfortunate incidents, and the news focuses on that,” he said. “And so we do have to address excesses in behavior and we do have to make sure that those police who are engaging in this conduct repeatedly and are harming others are removed from the profession. But … police have a tough job, and they’re running into the danger for us, and they’re well-meaning and decent, just like most of us. So we don’t want to discount that at all.”

The state has worked to improve training and has an investigation protocol that, while Goodman says still needs to be improved, is better than what it was in the past.

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“I’m feeling better about Washington state compared to the other states, but again, we have a lot of work left to do,” he said. “We have unfinished business, and I hope we can work together with the police and the community, as we have in the past, to come to consensus on improving things further.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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