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Progress on WA Police Accountability, with Refinements on Tap

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A year after their passage, police accountability bills in Washington state are showing signs of success.

An ACLU Washington analysis found a 62% drop in police killings through November 2021, compared with the previous two years.

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Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, was the prime sponsor of two bills last year updating use of force by police in the wake of George Floyd’s death. He said he has seen a change, especially among new police recruits.

“You can just see the officers coming in with an entirely different kind of ‘guardianship’ mindset, versus this ‘warrior-cop’ mentality in our communities, and I think that’s great,” Johnson observed. “They’re asking more questions before going to physical force. They are doing deeper investigations.”

But Johnson noted there has been criticism from some officers, who say the new standards are too restrictive. He is sponsoring a bill which allows for physical force in certain situations, such as transporting people to mental-health treatment.

The measure has received support from groups like the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, which supported reforms last year. Another measure, which allows force when a person flees questioning, has support from Johnson, but critics argued it could roll back last year’s progress.

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Johnson countered it is needed to clarify language in the laws. He added there are still checks on force, which must be considered “reasonable” and with an emphasis on de-escalation.

“Essentially, it said that law enforcement has to use available and appropriate less-lethal options,” Johnson explained. “They have to de-escalate. They have to have time, distance and space between them and the suspect. They have to take all these considerations into account, the totality of the circumstances.”

He added some of those factors include whether a person is pregnant, if English is their first language or if they appear to be having a mental health crisis.

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Johnson noted there was no universal standard for use of force in the state before last year’s bills, so each community had a different standard. He emphasized said for some, like Seattle, the new standards did not change things much, but in rural Washington, it was not the case.

“When you have totally different standards across the state, and you put it all into one standard that everyone has to abide by, you’re going to have people that challenge it because this is different from past practice, and others, it’s not very different at all,” Johnson concluded.


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Eric Tegethoff | WNS

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He’s also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

The above article was provided by Washington News Service. The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its content.

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