State Senate Passes Bill That Bans Chokeholds, Sets Standards for Police Tactics

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The Washington state Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would set standards for police tactics and equipment statewide, in part banning chokeholds, neck restraints, and no-knock warrants.

The Senate amended the bill, so it will now go back to the House of Representatives so it can consider the amendments.

House Bill 1054 would set limitations on military equipment, use of tear gas, and vehicular pursuits. It’s one of the major pieces of legislation up for consideration this session with roots in last year’s resounding calls for racial justice and police reform.

“The point of this legislation is to start placing appropriate limits on tactics and equipment used by police that are putting Black lives and the lives of all Washingtonians at risk,” Sakara Remmu of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance said in testimony last month.

The measure has been altered at several points since it was initially introduced. Senators debated amendments and final passage of the bill for about two hours Tuesday.

In its current form, the bill:

• Bans law enforcement officers from using chokeholds and neck restraints.

• Bans no-knock warrants.

• Limits the use of tear gas, in part specifying it can’t be used unless necessary to alleviate the risk of serious harm from a riot inside a correctional, jail, or detention facility; a barricaded subject; or a hostage situation.

• Bans agencies from acquiring some military equipment and lays out what equipment is banned.

• Limits when officers can engage in vehicular pursuits and fire at moving vehicles.

• Requires officers to display their name or other identifiable information.

• Requires a work group to develop a model policy for training and using police dogs.

Elements of the bill continued to draw criticism from law enforcement groups at a public hearing last month. The Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, for example, objected to the absolute ban on neck restraints. The Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs also objected to the total ban on neck restraints and chokeholds and to language related to vehicular pursuits.

However, the Washington Fraternal Order of Police supports the bill.

“The days of saying no and that we ask people to trust us and listen to us because we’re the professionals are gone,” Marco Monteblanco with the Fraternal Order of Police said in a hearing last month. “I also recognize the hesitancy from our stakeholder partners with specific changes. Throughout the history there has been changes, there’s been evolutions within policing, and this is the same thing today.”

Senators on Tuesday approved a floor amendment from Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro Woolley, that would allow law enforcement agencies to keep acquiring and using mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, which would’ve previously been banned under the bill.

The latest version also includes several changes to the section on vehicular pursuits. Additional floor amendments aimed at that same section of the bill were rejected Tuesday.

The amended bill ultimately passed out of the Senate on a 27-22 vote.

The vote was largely along party lines, with Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition. However, a few Democrats voted against the bill and one Republican voted for it. Democrats Sen. Steve Hobbs of Lake Stevens, Sen. Kevin Van De Wege of Sequim, and Sen. Tim Sheldon of Potlatch, who caucuses with Republicans, voted against the bill.

Hobbs, a lieutenant colonel in the Washington Army National Guard, said he supported the bill aside from the prohibition against the use of tear gas at riots that aren’t at a jail or correctional facility. He has had to stop a riot that got out of hand, he said, and it would’ve been horrible if he had to use force.

Sen. Wagoner was the lone Republican to vote in the bill’s favor.

During debate on the amended bill’s final passage, a common argument from Republicans who voted against the bill was that taking away police officers’ “tools” will result in escalation.

“In this misguided attempt to take tools away from law enforcement, we forget that they are our policy enforcers,” said Jeff Holy, R-Spokane, an attorney and former Spokane police detective.

Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, invoked an example from Olympia last summer in his remarks. The city banned chemical weapons used to control crowds, then the next month added an exception for criminal mischief after a protest left vandalism in its wake downtown.

“Why, in this state, would anybody want to be a policeman? With the way we are going here and put their lives at risk to protect us, because we sure don’t seem to care about protecting them,” King said.

After passing the police tactics bill, the Senate unanimously passed a bill from Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber, R-Republic, that would create a grant program to encourage more diverse candidates to pursue law enforcement careers.

The police tactics bill is one of five priorities for the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability this session — the group includes many residents who’ve lost loved ones to police violence. It was an extension of De-escalate Washington, a group that supported Initiative 940, which changed the state’s law on police use of deadly force.

Leslie Cushman, a coalition member and citizen sponsor of I-940, wrote in an email that they support the amended bill, even though the group would prefer that mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles not be allowed.

“I understand that some local agencies are using them for search and rescue and that acquiring these are cost saving for them,” Cushman wrote. “We shouldn’t be dependent on the war equipment of the federal government to take care of our communities. We will be supporting the bill with this amendment, however.”

They’re proud of this bill, she wrote, and grateful to the prime sponsor, Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, and Sen. Jamie Pedersen’s work in the Senate.

“There is no one in this chamber who wishes harm to come to those who protect and serve us,” Sen. Pedersen, D-Seattle, said in floor debate.

“We are grateful for their service ... every day. We also want to make sure that they are protecting everyone in our community and doing it with care. And this bill is a statement of those values of what we hope will be a new day, when all communities in our state feel equally protected and grateful to the guardians [of public peace].”

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