Washington Legislature approves police reform bills

The Washington Legislature has approved two more key police accountability bills — one imposing restrictions on tactics and equipment, and another establishing a statewide standard on use of force.

The bills are part of an ambitious package of accountability legislation the Democrats proposed this session following the police killings of George Floyd and other Black people, as well as the widespread demonstrations they inspired.

They were approved in Olympia Friday with support from majority Democrats after a conference committee of the House and Senate reconciled differences in the versions previously passed by each chamber.

Restrictions include an outright ban on chokeholds and neck restraints, as well as limits on the acquisition of military equipment by police departments and on how and when officers can use tear gas or engage in high-speed pursuits. Officers wouldn’t be able to use tear gas to quell public riots unless they first get approval from the top elected official in the jurisdiction, be it the mayor, county executive, county commission chair, or the governor in cases of the Washington State Patrol.

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The standards bill requires officers to exercise "reasonable care," including using de-escalation tactics when they can and the minimum force necessary when they must use force.

The Senate and House both took votes approving the measures just days before the legislative session ends Sunday. They now head to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

Earlier this week the Legislature gave final approval to two other key police accountability bills. One requires officers to intervene if they see a colleague using or attempting to use excessive force and they’re in a position to do so. The other, described as the teeth of the police accountability agenda, makes it easier to decertify police for bad acts and expands civilian representation on the Criminal Justice Training Commission.

Inslee has already signed one bill reforming the arbitration system by which officers can appeal discipline. It passed with bipartisan support.