Monthly Archives: July 2020

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    Chokeholds, tear gas, police reform top agenda for WA Legislature

Chokeholds, tear gas, police reform top agenda for WA Legislature

July 6th, 2020|

From Crosscut 

Washington state lawmakers plan to pursue a broad range of police reforms the next time they meet, including possibly limiting police use of tear gas and chokeholds.

The protests that erupted worldwide after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer have created new momentum for police accountability measures at the state Capitol.

“If people are willing to march in the street for 26 days because we are continuing to kill African American men, and African Americans in general, then we need to take action,” said state Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent, who chairs the Black Members Caucus in the state House.

Many lawmakers said the need to reform policing is so dire that it will be a leading topic if the Legislature meets in an emergency session this year to address the state budget.

Even if no special session is held in the coming months, police reform will remain at the top of legislators’ agenda when they convene for their scheduled 105-day session in January, key lawmakers said.

“This is just one aspect of the question of race in our society — but it is the most acute and the most high-stakes issue, because it really is about life and death,” said state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, which deals with law enforcement.

The reform ideas under discussion are wide ranging, with many coming from community groups and family members of people killed by police.

Some of the proposals Goodman considers “low hanging fruit” include limiting the purchase of military equipment by police, as well as potentially banning police use of chokeholds and other neck restraints.

Many lawmakers also want to restrict police use of teargas and rubber bullets during protests, he said.

Other priorities, such as establishing an independent office to review investigations of police misconduct, may take longer to hammer out, Goodman said.

State Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said one of his ultimate goals is to ensure that officers accused of misconduct can’t evade an investigation by simply resigning.

That would mean beefing up the process for decertifying officers, along with ensuring that police agencies complete misconduct investigations and report the findings to the state Criminal Justice Training Commission, which handles officer certifications.

“Right now, what happens is the discipline process starts within the department against a cop. And if the officer kind of sees the writing on the wall that he or she is not going to prevail, the officer resigns in lieu of discipline,” said Pedersen, who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

“Well, that stops the investigation. And because the investigation stops, there’s no decertification process,” he said.

That means “somebody who resigns in lieu of discipline in Renton can go to Tukwila and get hired, or Federal Way,” Pedersen said.

“That’s the kind of thing that we need to figure out how to stop,” he said.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) said it is on board with some of those reforms. In a June 24 letter to lawmakers and the governor, leaders of the police group supported changing state law so officers can lose their certification for excessive use of force, repeatedly breaking rules or “other serious breaches of the public’s trust.”

Attorney General Bob Ferguson similarly wants the Legislature to expand the criteria for revoking an officer’s certification.

The attorney general and WASPC also agree on the need to require all law enforcement agencies in Washington to report incidents where officers use deadly force. Right now, that data collection and reporting is lacking, Ferguson says.

There’s also a need for a process to review use of force investigations after they are completed, to make sure that existing laws and protocols are being followed, according to both WASPC and the attorney general’s office.

Although Washington voters approved Initiative 940 in 2018 to require independent investigations of killings by police, Ferguson’s office said it’s clear agencies don’t always obey those rules.

A recent report in the The Seattle Times highlighted how the independent inquest process broke down in the case of Manuel Ellis, who was killed in the custody of Tacoma police in March.

Many lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee want to set up a new, independent oversight agency to investigate allegations of deadly police misconduct. But creating such an agency would cost money, which may prolong discussions during the current state budget crisis.

Other police accountability measures could also get complicated if they require changing the terms of police union contracts.

State Rep. Brad Klippert of Kennewick, the ranking Republican on the House Public Safety Committee, said so far he hasn’t been involved in the conversations with majority Democrats about police reform. He said he would have to see the language of specific proposals to form an opinion about them.

Still, he said any independent body that investigates officers “should have someone who is actually experienced in law enforcement” serving on it.

“You can watch TV shows all day long and watch the news all day long and see reports of what happened, but until you have actually been a police officer and actually been there and done the job, it would be very hard for you to make an accurate appraisal of an officer’s actions,” said Klippert, a longtime sheriff’s deputy in Benton County.

State Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said one thing she wants to do is empower officers to intervene when they see their colleagues misusing their power.

That would mean outlining officers’ duty to intervene when they see an abuse of force or other misconduct, as well as training officers how to step in, she said.

In Minneapolis, multiple officers stood by as officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for about 8 minutes, even as the dying Floyd cried out, “I can’t breathe.”

Dhingra said she thinks the Legislature will approve new standards for peer intervention training, if not approve rules for when officers must intervene.

Inslee is also interested in legislation that would require law enforcement to report misconduct witnessed by fellow officers, his office said.

One thing lawmakers aren’t pursuing aggressively at the state level is the idea of defunding the police. Goodman, the House Public Safety Committee chair, said that’s largely because most police funding comes from local government, rather than the state.

However, in the future lawmakers hope to boost funding for behavioral health services and housing, which Goodman said could help reduce the burden on police to address homelessness and mental health crises.

House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said he, too, is interested in “creating a system that is more selective about who needs to respond,” so that police aren’t taking every call.

The idea is “making sure the right services are responding based on the crisis — not just because you call 911 and you get cops,” Wilcox said.

State Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, said he thinks this year feels different when it comes to the potential to make real progress on police reform.

“The reality is there is just so much disproportionality right now when it comes to health outcomes — and you add in the economy and police brutality, and enough is enough,” Johnson said. “I think people are just tired of it.”

“I think this is the best time to get some of this done,” he added. “It’s unfortunate it comes at the hands of some people in our state losing their lives, but we have an opportunity to make really positive change on this issue.

“I think there’s a lot of energy behind it.”

By Melissa Santos

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    Washington legislators of color lead police reform discussion ahead of session

Washington legislators of color lead police reform discussion ahead of session

July 6th, 2020|

Fom the Spokesman-Review

If the Washington Legislature is forced into a special session to deal with the economic collapse sparked by COVID-19, some lawmakers are working to make sure they also debate police reform in the aftermath of nationwide protests following by the death of George Floyd.

Two groups leading the discussion in police reform are the House Black Member Caucus and the Senate Members of Color Caucus. Members have been working with the Law and Justice Committee and meeting with other legislators, members of the community, police organizations and other stakeholders to rethink policing in Washington.

It’s unclear whether there will be a special session or if proposals will have to wait until January, but the Black Member Caucus and the Members of Color Caucus are confident new policy will pass.

“I think the pressure is on the system so much that if these laws don’t get passed, there will be a lot of upset people,” said Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, vice chair of the House Black Caucus.

Some of the biggest proposals include banning chokeholds, creating an independent investigatory body to look into use-of-force incidents and ending qualified immunity for officers.

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, pointed at numerous proposals that have so much support that they are no longer considered controversial. Dhingra is a part of the Senate Members of Color Caucus as well as the vice chair of the Law and Justice Committee and Senate deputy majority leader.

Banning chokeholds and tear gas, for example, would be easy to get done during a special session, she said.

Other proposals, such as creating an independent investigatory system, might take longer, so they will likely wait until January, Dhingra said.

“I don’t think anyone is unrealistic with what can be done during a special session,” said Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent, chair of the House Black Member Caucus. “But we can no longer wait, and I think that we will be successful.”

Other proposals Dhingra is working on include mandating peer intervention training among officers and creating a use-of-force incident audit process.

Entenman also stressed the importance of ensuring any new COVID-relief funds don’t leave behind communities that need it, such as communities of color.

“Our COVID response is disproportionately affecting people of color,” she added.

One of the biggest hurdles Johnson acknowledged, will be with police unions, who traditionally have a significant influence in crafting policing laws. He’s hoping that by including police organizations, such as the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, early in the conversations, they will be more likely to succeed in passing reform.

Another hurdle will be the state budget deficit, but Dhingra said there is a lot of policy that can change without a large cost.

“If they do have a large fiscal note, there is enough momentum to say this is a priority,” she said.

If there isn’t a special session, legislators will continue to work on the ideas for the regular session, which starts in January. Dhingra said there is a lot that can be done at a city and county level to make changes to the criminal justice system before January.

Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-White Center, said he is confident police reform legislation will pass in the next session. It’s a priority, said Nguyen, who is a part of the Senate Members of Color Caucus.

“Things like this often don’t make it to the forefront because not enough people care about it,” he said. “That dynamic is very, very different now.”

The Black Member Caucus was only created two years ago and currently has five members. The Senate Members of Color caucus has eight members but does not have a Black member, because Washington has no Black senators.

Nguyen said not having any Black members of the Senate provides a huge blind spot in how they think about legislation, which is why it’s so important to include the Black Members Caucus of the House in the discussions they’re having.

“We’ve been talking with each other about how we can ensure the communities most affected are leading these conversations,” he said.

By bringing in the Black Members Caucus as well as outside groups such as the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and other community organizers, Nguyen said it ensures the best legislation possible is proposed.

Entenman said the lack of Black legislators points to the institutionalized racism within larger systems in this country.

“It’s important for me to recognize, although I am part of this system, there are parts I am trying to change from the inside,” Entenman said.

Having the Black Member Caucus involved in the conversations allows Black legislators to bring in their own stakeholders and community advocates that might not otherwise be involved in the conversation, Johnson said.

“It gives us credibility for the community to see Black elected officials out front leading this,” Johnson said.

Entenman said the caucus is not simply focusing on what happens in the western part of the state.

She has talked with community leaders in Eastern Washington and is listening to their concerns as well.

People of color live in all different parts of the state, she said.

“We have to focus on what is happening in the African American community, but that is not to exclude other people,” Entenman said. “That is simply to say that we think it will benefit all people in our state.”

By Laurel Demkovich

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    As city leaders eye police reform, state legislators could also take action

As city leaders eye police reform, state legislators could also take action

July 2nd, 2020|

From the Spokesman-Review

In their quest for police reform, elected officials in the city of Spokane may lean on their counterparts in the state Legislature for help.

But what action the legislature will take – and when it will next convene – remains up in the air.

Leaders in the Senate are mulling over many of the same reform ideas as members of the Spokane City Council, after Council President Breean Beggs introduced a broad proposal last week. The state Legislature could act during a special session later this year, but it remains uncertain if and when that will happen.

The policy discussions are happening as protesters take to the streets in Spokane and across the nation to protest police brutality and racial injustice following the death of George Floyd.

In Spokane, reform-focused city leaders could look to the state to limit the authority of police unions to negotiate their own oversight during contract negotiations.

The Spokane City Charter grants the civilian in charge of police oversight with power to independently investigate complaints against officers and publicly report his findings.

The city’s contract with its police union, however, does not.

The discrepancy has long been the subject of ire from advocates for police reform in Spokane, where the death of Otto Zehm in 2006 sparked a sustained push for civilian oversight of the Police Department. Oversight is at the center of debate over a proposed contract with the Spokane Police Guild that was rejected by the City Council on Monday.

“Literally, for 12 years, in Spokane we have been having the same conversation about this,” Beggs said.

Beggs is leaning on Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and his colleagues to enact a state law that would prohibit matters of civilian oversight from being collectively bargained in police union contracts.

That’s one of myriad of proposals under consideration by Democrats in the Senate, which could include a ban on chokeholds, forcing officers to warn a suspect before shooting a firearm, and prohibiting shooting at moving cars.

The Senate could take up police reforms in a special session, which Gov. Jay Inslee could call in the coming months to address the massive state budget deficit caused by the coronavirus.

Billig said senators are in a “listening period” and engaging with stakeholders on reform legislation, after which they will finalize a suite of bills.

“Independent oversight is a common theme, that’s not just a Spokane thing, that’s something we’ve heard from other communities around the state,” Billig said.

If there is a special session, Billig said the Senate likely will take up bills that could pass quickly.

“The groundwork is being done right now so that we have legislation ready to go. If there is a special session or when there is a special session, I do think there is some low-hanging fruit that we could get done,” said state Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond.

Beggs introduced a long slate of proposed city reforms in a nonbinding resolution last week, some of which intersect with issues also under review by state legislators.

Spokane’s city charter explicitly grants the police ombudsman the authority to independently investigate complaints against police. And while Spokane Police Ombudsman Bart Logue cannot discipline an officer, he is authorized under city charter to opine on the case in a publicly available closing report.

But, as Beggs explains, the ombudsman has never exercised that authority, because the language of the Spokane Police Guild’s contract deviates from that of the city charter.

There are a set of questions surrounding how cities collectively bargain with police unions, according to Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who is one of the senators spearheading the Senate’s look at reforms.

The subject is thorny both politically and legally, Pedersen said. The state has the authority to determine what’s subject to bargaining, “but you’ve got a bunch of other labor organizations that are watching anxiously as you start making changes.”

But Pedersen pointed to the recent expulsion of the Seattle Police Officers Guild from the King County Labor Council, an umbrella of more than 150 labor unions, amid recent protests.

“That signals a willingness within the rest of organized labor, or a decent chunk of organized labor, to try to figure out how to draw some lines that might allow more flexibility with the police,” Pedersen said.

Ultimately, Billig said, the protests have worked.

“It has become a higher urgency,” he said of the reform effort. “At the same time, we want to be deliberate and make sure we’re taking our time to get the policy right.”

By Adam Shanks

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    Legislative subcommittee holds meeting on COVID-19 impacts on behavioral health

Legislative subcommittee holds meeting on COVID-19 impacts on behavioral health

July 1st, 2020|

From The Washington State Wire

The Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee held a meeting Monday morning to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on behavioral health in Washington State. During the meeting, the committee heard from multiple panels on a range of topics including the state’s response, COVID’s impact on behavioral health clients and providers, and actions taken by Medicaid managed care plans.

In a previously published version of the forecast (from May 15), DOH categorized Washington as being in the “honeymoon” phase, or the peak period of emotional highs during the pandemic. With the June 15 update, the state has dropped toward the disillusionment period and emotional lows are increasing. Covington says the disillusionment phase will be from about September to December for Washington.

“This is the period we’re really worried about as a state,” says Covington. “This is where we’ll likely see increased rates of depression, suicidal ideation, particularly increased substance use related to despair, and those sorts of topics. So, this is really a hard period for us as a state and one I want us to really be aware of.”

In her presentation on the impact of COVID-19, Kim Zacher, CEO of Comprehensive Life Resources, said her organization is seeing a behavioral health shift that follows along the path forecasted by DOH. She says in March and April, their clients were doing fairly well.

“They were rallying, they were experiencing the same sense of community and purpose that we all were. But really we’re starting to see an acceleration in those crisis calls, the decompensation, and I think just that extended experience of isolation, lack of face to face support…we really are seeing some impact,” says Zacher.

During her testimony, Zacher also discussed both the importance and limitations of telehealth. She says telehealth has been critical in helping people stay connected to services during the pandemic, but that it should be considered just one of the tools in the toolbox.

On one hand, telehealth can augment services and eliminate transportation struggles for some clients. On the other hand, says Zacher, many of the evidence-based practices being utilized haven’t been researched for delivery via telehealth. Also, trauma services or assessment of mental health symptoms can be difficult through telehealth, and Zacher says some clients are triggered by technology or may not engage due to anxiety or paranoia.

“For some people it’s a better means of connecting and for some people it makes it much more difficult,” she says.

The committee also heard an update on the actions taken by Medicaid MCOs during the pandemic to support members and providers. Bea Dixon, Behavioral Health Executive Director with UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Washington, provided a summary of lessons learned during the pandemic:

Additional documents and presentations from the committee meeting are available here.

By Emily Boerger