Senate OKs bill making police intervene to stop undue force

By Gene Johnson

The Associated Press

SEATTLE — The state Senate has approved a measure requiring police to intervene if they see a fellow officer using excessive force — one of several measures in the Legislature prompted by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests last year.

Senate Bill 5066, sponsored by Redmond Democrat Manka Dhingra, passed 28-21 Tuesday over opposition from Republicans, some of whom criticized it as well-intentioned but flawed. It will now be considered by the House.

Under the measure, officers would have to intervene to stop excessive force if they see it being used by another officer and they’re in a position to do so. It would also require police to report wrongdoing by another officer to that officer’s supervisor, including criminal acts or violations of professional standards, and it would forbid retaliation against police who intervene or report wrongdoing.

The bill requires law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies on the duty to intervene and ensure that all law enforcement officers obtain training.

Democrats defeated several amendments proposed by Republicans, including ones that would have limited the meaning of “wrongdoing” that must be reported as criminal acts and clear violations of rights, rather than violations of professional standards.

Republicans also wanted to make it clear that officers would only have a duty to intervene if the colleague using excessive force was readily identifiable as law enforcement, and that the force being used was excessive to an objective, reasonable observer, rather than just the impression of the observing officer. Democrats said that would cause the observing officer to think twice before intervening — contrary to the purpose of the bill.

Dhingra, a former longtime King County deputy prosecutor, said the bill was about empowering good officers to stop wrongdoing: “They want to make sure they’re doing the right thing. This bill helps them do that.”

Republican Sen. Jeff Holy, a former police detective from Cheney, argued that the type of conduct at issue in the bill is already covered by agency ethics policies and internal affairs review. He accused lawmakers of armchair quarterbacking and said the measure would be subject to misinterpretation.

The Senate last week passed a bill to create a panel of arbitrators to hear officers’ appeals when they are disciplined by their departments, rather than having police unions and departments agree on a private arbitrator — a system that has been criticized as tilting the scale toward the officers who seek to undo their punishments.

The House has already passed a few police-reform measures this session, including one that would update policies and training about reporting and disclosing information that could impeach an officer’s credibility at trial; one that allows the state auditor to review deadly force investigations to ensure procedures were followed; and one to encourage more diversity in police hiring.

Other police-reform measures could face a tougher road to passage, including a tactics bill in the House that would prohibit or limit the use of chokeholds and neck restraints by officers, the use of police dogs to make arrests, and no-knock warrants.