One of the priorities for the House of Representatives this session is to pass legislation aimed at improving police departments and how they treat residents of color.
Many of the proposed changes are driven by the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which regained its momentum this past year in shocking fashion as we saw far too many white police officers shoot or mistreat people of color.
While some of the more controversial proposals are still working their way through the committee structure, the House passed three new bills sending them to the Senate for review. All three are important. HB 1088, which has some controversy to it, passed 61-37 and is a serious effort to keep officers with problem histories from continuing to move from one department to another. It concerns an officer’s credibility as a witness and whether the officer could possibly be “impeached,” or whose past conduct might undermine questions of truthfulness.
The bill requires the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys to update its model policy to include guidance on what should be included and requires law enforcement agencies to ask about an officer’s past impeachment disclosures before hiring them and then share that information with Prosecuting Attorneys. Police unions usually oppose their personnel files becoming part of the record, particularly when looking for another job.
HB 1089, passed 80-18, is intended to improve training for police officers with independent review. It authorizes the state auditor to audit deadly force investigations to determine if the proper rules and procedures were followed. If the Criminal Justice Training Commission requests it, the auditor could also audit an agency for compliance, with training and certification of its officers.
Both of these bills would improve police department transparency, though police officers may not like them.
The third bill, HB 1001, also seeks to improve police conduct by providing grants to agencies to improve hiring underrepresented groups. A goal for each community should be to reflect their residents. Cities have frequently complained that not enough people of color apply for police jobs. However, since opportunities to make the application and recruitment process more attractive are available to the hiring jurisdiction, that argument seems weak.
Over in the state Senate, they passed SB 5055, 41-8, which will establish a roster of up to 18 arbitrators appointed by Public Employment Relations Commission. Previously the department and the officer had to agree on the arbitrator, which may have caused some arbitrators to have an incentive to favor one side.
Now is the time to start the change toward what the police department of the future will look like. All four of these bills seek to overcome some of the opposition police agencies have encountered, frequently from within, and start to make the changes needed to correct problems with systemic racism.
It appears that the public mood is supportive of significant changes in police departments, so I would expect the legislation to pass, even though police unions are politically strong. These changes will improve local police departments. But even if none pass, voters can always challenge your local City Hall and police department to make these changes anyway. And since it’s an election year in local government, these issues would be good to debate. And more police policy changes will be heard by the Legislature before they are done with the session.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.