New Legislation Increases Police Accountability In Washington State

New Legislation Increases Police Accountability In Washington State

In the midst of the public outcry across the nation calling for police practice reforms and greater accountability for the use of force, Washington has recently passed laws designed to provide clarity about how and when force can be used and make police more accountable for misconduct.

A new state agency has been created that will have the responsibility to investigate any incident that involves the use of deadly force by law enforcement.

And the agency responsible for training and certifying police officers in Washington has been given greater authority to suspend and revoke police officer certification.

At the Law Offices of Joseph Rome, we believe these reforms demonstrate that Washington is committed to improving the police function in our state. Our Kirkland police misconduct attorney hopes that greater accountability will reduce police misconduct and make it easier for those victimized to seek justice.

When Police Can Use Force

The new law regulating the use of force by law enforcement and correctional officers establishes a standard for when either physical or deadly force can be used.

Physical force may be used to:

  • protect against criminal conduct where there is probable cause for an arrest
  • make an arrest
  • prevent an escape
  • protect anyone from imminent bodily harm

Deadly force may only be used to protect against serious physical injury or death either to the officer or another person.

Officers must use reasonable care in making the decision to use force and must first try to de-escalate a situation. In using force, an officer must use the least amount of force necessary to contain a situation and must discontinue using force once the need for force ends.

By July 1, 2022, the Attorney General’s office is to have created model policies and procedures to help law enforcement agencies develop their own practices which they need to have in place by December 1, 2022.

A New Agency Will Investigate When Police Use Deadly Force

Beginning July 1, 2022, the new Office of Independent Investigations (OII) will have the authority to investigate any incident involving the use of deadly force by law enforcement. The OII must investigate any time the use of deadly force results in death or substantial bodily harm.

OII investigations must be ‘fair, thorough, transparent and competent’. By July 1, 2023, OII will be authorized to re-open previous investigations into the use of deadly force when new information is discovered that was not available during the initial investigation.

It is Now Easier for Police to Lose Their Certification for Misconduct

Since 2001, police officers in Washington are required to be certified in order to be employed by state law enforcement agencies. The Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) certifies law enforcement officers after they complete the CJTC’s training program. The CJTC also has the authority to revoke an officer’s certification for certain types of misconduct.

The problem, until last year, was that the type of misconduct that could result in decertification was very specific and the language was interpreted narrowly which meant decertification rarely occurred. Thus police officers who had been fired for misconduct could retain their certification and go on to work for other law enforcement agencies in Washington. Under the old law, no officer had ever had their certification revoked for using excessive force.

The CJTC now has far greater authority to deny, suspend or revoke a police officer’s certification and must take action under certain circumstances. The agency is required to deny or revoke a police officer’s certification if:

  • the officer was fired for using excessive force that resulted in serious injury or death
  • the officer was fired after witnessing another officer’s use of excessive force and failing to intervene or report the use of excessive force
  • the officer was fired for dishonest behaviors such as lying under oath, withholding information, and falsifying evidence

The Kirkland police misconduct lawyer at the Law Offices of Joseph Rome is an advocate for those who have had their civil rights violated by police misconduct. We believe the recent changes in Washington law will protect more people from police misconduct and get more bad cops out of law enforcement.

If you believe you were treated illegally by a police officer, we can help. Call our office at 425-429-1729 or contact us here for a free consultation.