State Lawmakers Advance Bills to Ban Police Use of Chokeholds and Neck Restraints, Collect Use-of-Force Data


OLYMPIA — Washington Senate lawmakers Monday approved a bill to begin requiring law enforcement agencies around the state to report details when officers use force against citizens.

And on Saturday, Washington House legislators approved a bill to ban police from using chokeholds, neck restraints and "no-knock" warrants.

The bills advance as Washington lawmakers have vowed to reshape policing this legislative session in the wake of last year's protests over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Manuel Ellis and others at the hands of police.

Ellis died last March at the hands of Tacoma police in an encounter that included a vascular neck restraint being used.

Sen. T'wina Nobles, D-Fircrest, sponsored the legislation that passed Monday, Senate Bill 5259.

The bill — which was requested by the Washington Attorney General's Office — requires law enforcement agencies in Washington to begin reporting use-of-force instances once the third party data-collection system has been set up.

Scenarios that would require reporting include, according to a legislative analysis of the bill: instances where an officer fires or points a gun at someone; uses a Taser, baton, chemical spray, police dog or a less-lethal shotgun on a person; or employs a vascular neck restraint or chokehold. Any instances where a fatality occurred or someone experience "great bodily harm" must be reported.

The bill specifies a range of details that must be collected about each incident, from the date, location and time, to the reason for the initial contact, and the race and ethnicity of both the person and the officer.

Lawmakers are debating a number of law enforcement changes this year, "However, we are all operating in spaces without data," Nobles said during a floor speech.

"Because law enforcement agencies are not required to report use-of-force data, it's impossible to know the ways in which police and community members' interactions impact certain populations," Nobles added later. "And as a result, public distrust continues to grow."

The bill passed with almost unanimous support, on a vote of 46 to 2. During a floor speech, Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said that the data, which will be managed out of Washington State University, will help policymakers reach better decisions on law enforcement issues.

On Saturday, Washington House members passed House Bill 1054, a bill to reshape and restrict a range of law enforcement tactics.

The version that passed off the House floor was a slimmed-down version of the original proposal.

During the House debate, lawmakers removed several provisions — such as banning tear gas, and the use of police dogs and firearm suppressors — via a series of amendments. Many of those were put forth by Republicans who didn't ultimately vote for the bill.

The version passed by House lawmakers still bans officers from using neck restraints or chokeholds, as well as the use of "no-knock" warrants.

It would establish statewide policies on vehicle pursuits and assemble a task force to recommend policies governing the use of police dogs.

The bill still allows law enforcement agencies to use tear gas, but only as "necessary to alleviate a present risk of serious harm posed by a riot, barricaded subject, or hostage situation." The legislation specifies a series of steps an officer must take in order to use tear gas in those instances.

Even the less expansive version is "huge for the community," said Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, and bill sponsor, citing the bans on neck restraints and chokeholds.

Johnson worked with stakeholders and Republicans, he said. And "I think it paid off getting some support from law enforcement."

That support came Friday in a statement by the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, which embraced HB 1054.

"We recognize the need to change law enforcement procedures to meet our communities' expectations and strengthen trust with those we serve," said Marco Monteblanco, president of the organization. "The amended version of House Bill 1054 would take important steps in that direction while simultaneously preserving the ability for peace officers to protect themselves and the public."

Still, the legislation passed on a largely party-line vote in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, 54 to 43 in the House. It now heads to the Senate.

Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale voted against HB 1054, but said she appreciated that Democrats took GOP amendments and believes the bill is better than when it started.

Mosbrucker drafted the successful amendment to continue the use of police dogs and set up the related task force, saying, "they do play an important role in police work."

"I completely understand that we have some law enforcement that needs to be dealt with if they break the law, to the full extent of the law," she said. "But at the same time we can't take tools away from law enforcement."

Taylor was shot multiple times and killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police last March in a raid on her apartment while she was asleep. Louisville officers had a no-knock warrant but contend they knocked and announced themselves before entering. The city of Louisville banned no-knock warrants last year, and a bill limiting their use passed the Kentucky Senate last week.