Washington Governor Signs a Dozen Police Reform Bills

May 18, 2021 Updated: May 19, 2021

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a dozen law enforcement police reform measures into law on May 18, claiming they will boost accountability in policing and address “systemic racism” in the state, calling it a “moral mandate.”

“These bills are all going to work in coordination with one another to create a system of accountability and integrity stronger than anywhere else in the nation,” Inslee said in a statement shortly before he signed the bills.

The package of bills signed by the Democratic governor includes outright bans on police use of chokeholds, neck restraints, and no-knock warrants, and also requires police officers to intervene if a colleague engages in excessive force.

It also requires the establishment of an independent office to review the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers. Police must also use “reasonable care,” such as de-escalation tactics, in carrying out their duties.

The legislation restricts the use of tear gas and car chases, and makes it easier to sue officers when they cause injury.

“The thoroughness and quality of these proposals reflect our state’s exceptional commitment,” Inslee said on Twitter. “These bills will work in coordination and effectively create [a] system of accountability and integrity stronger than anywhere else in the nation.”

The death of George Floyd in May of last year and the protests and riots that followed prompted a wave of police reforms in dozens of states, from changes in use-of-force policies to greater accountability for officers. But few, if any, matched the scope of the changes being adopted in Washington state.

“We knew we had to do something,” Democratic state Rep. Jesse Johnson, the vice chair of the House Public Safety Committee and sponsor of three of the bills signed by Inslee, told TVW last week.

“This process was deeply collaborative, deeply visionary and deeply intentional about lifting up every voice, from community to law enforcement,” Johnson said.

A coalition of Washington state law enforcement unions—representing more than 14,000 officers—said it could accept some measures, including the arbitration reform and duty-to-intervene bills. But it expressed concern that the decertification bill threatened the due-process rights of officers.

The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, which represents 60 percent of the state’s fully commissioned law enforcement officers, opposed the bill restricting police tactics and the measure requiring “reasonable care” in using force.

Teresa Taylor, the council’s executive director, said on May 18 that she had concerns about the “tenor of the narrative” around the legislation, but that her organization would work to help implement the laws.

State Sen. Mike Padden, the ranking Republican on the Senate Law and Justice Committee, called the legislation “hostile to law enforcement,” taking particular issue with the ban on neck restraints, arguing that the method can be safe and effective if used properly.

Inslee said the signing of the legislation marks a “new beginning” in the state.

“All of our work remains ahead of us. Today we celebrate the blueprint of justice this legislation lays out for the people, and now it’s up to us to bring about the much needed change,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.