In Washington State, a Test of Police Reform

New laws take effect, though critics say they're creating confusion for officers
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 26, 2021 10:25 AM CDT
Washington State Begins Ambitious Police Reform Test
Kevin Burton-Crow of the Thurston County Sheriff's Department, outside the vehicle, is seen participating in a training class at Washington state's Criminal Justice Training Commission.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Washington state is embarking on a massive experiment in police reform following the murder of George Floyd last year, with a dozen laws going into effect over the weekend, per the AP. But law enforcement officials remain uncertain about what they require, leading to discrepancies around the state in how officers might respond—or not respond—to certain situations, including active crime scenes and mental health crises. "The challenge is—I'm going to be very frank—the laws were written very poorly, and the combination of them all at the same time has led to there being conflicts in clarity and in what was intended versus what was written," said Rafael Padilla, police chief in the Seattle suburb of Kent. The laws, passed by a Democrat-controlled Legislature and signed by a Democratic governor, constitute what's likely the nation's most ambitious police reform legislation.

  • The laws cover virtually all aspects of policing, including the background checks officers undergo before they're hired; when they're authorized to use force and how they collect data about it; and the establishment of an entirely new state agency to review police use of deadly force.
  • The measures ban chokeholds, neck restraints, and no-knock warrants, and limit the use of tear gas and military equipment. Inspired by the officers who stood by in Minneapolis as their colleague Derek Chauvin pressed a knee to Floyd's neck, they require officers to intervene when a colleague engages in excessive force and to report misconduct by other officers.
  • They restrict when officers can engage in car chases; make it easier to decertify police for bad acts; make it easier to sue individual officers; and require police to use "reasonable care" in carrying out their duties, including exhausting appropriate de-escalation tactics before using force.
  • Advocates say the laws are long overdue, but critics say uncertainty about how to comply with them, combined with a greater possibility of being decertified or held personally liable in court, puts officers in a tough position.
Read more here. (More Washington state stories.)

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