Police reform sets the tone for 2020 elections

Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent move to name a task force to review racial justice and police reform set the tone for both a special session in August and the regular legislative session in January. Debates among local legislative candidates over taxes, education, transportation and the economy will continue, but we know now what the headliner issues will be.

The recent deaths of Black people at the hands of white police officers has reignited an old but simmering debate as protesters have taken to the streets to demand change with a message of Black Lives Matter.

Some protesters want police departments defunded, while others want reform and changes in policies. As the protesters gain momentum, they have forced new topics for state candidates to debate: police use of force, outside investigations, body cameras, officer training, chokeholds, the militarization of police departments and how police work with communities of color. While generally considered city topics, state legislators can have a big impact on local government through the laws they pass. There will be many debates. Speakers representing different minority groups, police unions and police chiefs will be in high demand and passions will be high.

As union members, police tend to work with other unions and have a link to Democrats. But their usual benefactors tend to be conservative Republicans when it comes to politics. Police officers don’t like elected officials bowing to public pressure by changing the laws, which they think makes their jobs harder. Reform will not be a popular topic with them. In contrast, many minority groups believe they have been targets because of the color of their skin. Finding common ground may not be easy.

The debates are long overdue. They can be awkward and make some candidates uncomfortable for fear of alienating one side or the other. Nobody wants to be either “soft on crime” or a “racist.”

For District 30 State Representative Position 1, we have two Republicans and two Democrats. The Democrats are Jamila Taylor and Cheryl Hurst. Taylor is an attorney and ran a good race last year for the Federal Way City Council, improving her knowledge base. Taylor supports police and criminal justice reform. She favors reallocating some of the police budgets to fund youth development, job training, housing, health care and education. She says, “these investments have been proven to reduce crime and increase healthy resilient communities.” Taylor believes the public wants more de-escalation training for police, more mental health funding and a change in criminal liability for use of force.

Hurst is an active community volunteer and first-time candidate . She has received the endorsement of the Federal Way Police Guild. She is opposed to defunding the police department, favors body cameras for police, wants to eliminate chokeholds by officers and supports independent investigations for “use of force.” She believes the police and people of color can find a way to work together.

The two Republicans in the race are Janis Clark and Martin Moore. Clark supports funding police, but feels officers who are repeat violent offenders should be dismissed. She says body cameras are a good way to evaluate the need for additional training and accountability. She believes most officers are good and police shouldn’t be judged by a few bad apples. She was “troubled by the rioting, burning and looting that took place as it became a distraction from the message.”

Moore is in his second term as a member of the Federal Way City Council. He opposes defunding the police department, favors body cameras, supports training in race and equity, and supports banning chokeholds “while letting our police officers maintain control of dangerous situations and remain safe.” He should have spoken sooner as the police chief has recently banned chokeholds. Moore wants to form a citizens advisory board to address the needs of minority communities. As a member of the city council, Moore has already been in a position to make change at the local level. Has he?

In District 30 State Representative Position 2, we have appointed Democratic incumbent Jesse Johnson and three Republicans: Jack Walsh, Mark Greene and Chris Dowllar.

Johnson, as the lone incumbent, will have a platform to act on his views at a special session in early August and can introduce legislation at that time. Johnson does not support defunding police departments. He prefers reforms, including mandating community accountability boards for all police agencies including the state patrol, requiring independent criminal investigations of injuries and deaths, along with robust community involvement and the prohibition of chokeholds, with deadly force as only a last resort. He will support officers losing their commission if they have sustained misconduct complaints. Johnson was on the city council previously — what changes did he make then?

Walsh is a local businessman who spearheaded last year’s successful opposition to pot shops in Federal Way. Walsh is opposed to defunding the police department, but supports body cameras and independent investigations for police use of force. He also favors banning chokeholds unless the officer’s life is in immediate danger.

Greene has run for office before. He supports the need for policing and is opposed to defunding them. He favors reforms, along with accountability for misconduct by police, and would like to see more comprehensive background checks on new hires. He believes training should be longer than it currently is, and de-escalation should be central to training.

Dowllar is a new candidate and is an electrician. He is running because unemployment is 25% and he wants change. He favors independent investigation boards. He wants at least one trash can and one bathroom per town for the homeless and wants to see public workers cross-trained to do more than one job.

The top two from each race will move on to the November general election. With the Democrats controlling both houses and the governor’s office, history could be made in an area that legislators usually tend to avoid.

Which side of history are you on?

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.