After a year of nationwide protests and civil unrest regarding police use-of-force and accountability, the Washington State Legislature has passed sweeping police reform laws as community policing policies and practices have been placed under scrutiny.
A handful of police reform bills were passed during the 2021 legislative session and beginning on July 25, police departments like Renton’s will have to adopt these new policies and procedures intended to promote community safety, reduce police overreach, and to uphold accountability among the police service.
House Bill 1054 includes measures intended to reform police tactics, including:
-Prohibiting the use of neck restraints and chokeholds.
-Prohibiting no-knock warrants in which officers non-consensually enter private property without announcing themselves. This was a tactic used in the Louisville Police raid killing of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor in her own home.
-Institutes additional training frameworks for K-9 units.
-Limits the use of tear gas except in circumstances in which it can reduce harm, but alternative options and tactics must be considered first and law enforcement must first announce the use of tear gas and give “sufficient” time and space for dispersal before using it on crowds and individuals.
-Keep police agencies from having “military equipment” and that they must get rid of it by the end of 2022 if they already have some. The Renton Police Department claims they do not have any military equipment.
-Requires uniformed officers to be identifiable by name tag or something similar. Renton Police say they already practice this policy.
-Prohibits law enforcement from firing a gun at a moving vehicle, unless the vehicle is driving directly at an officer and that officer is at-risk of harm.
-It also limits when an officer can engage in a vehicular pursuit to when they have probable cause to justify apprehension of a suspect of a violent crime or DUI. A note from RPD claims that officers will be required by law to permit a subject to flee in a vehicle from a crime scene if probable cause is not immediately established in certain circumstances.
House Bill 1310 limits the situations in which an officer is permitted to use force against an individual. The law specifies that force can only be used when making an arrest or when it is necessary to prevent an “imminent threat” of violence.
The law aims to drastically reduce use-of-force by police and clarifies that officers should use the “least amount of physical force necessary.”
Renton Police note that they have already implemented similar use-of-force reduction policies. Use-of-force reports suggest that only 0.1 percent of 71,000 service calls responded to by Renton Police involved a use-of-force incident.
Senate Bill 5066 asserts that police officers now have a “duty to intervene” in instances where their fellow officers use excessive force. This means they are required to take action to prevent, intervene to end and report these incidents to their supervisors.
Other bills passed earlier this year, focus on police accountability measures and institutions to fairly and independently review adverse police actions.
House Bill 1267 institutes the Office of Independent Investigations that will lead investigations on police conduct within the state. House Bill 1089 will mandate a state audit of police department investigations of deadly force incidents.
Senate Bill 5259 requires the State Attorney General to contract with a college or university to establish and administer a Washington law enforcement use-of-force reporting system. Senate Bill 5055 establishes a rotating pool of law enforcement grievance arbitrators at the Public Employment Relations Commission.