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New Washington law expands police oversight, accountability

Senate Bill 5051 adds more civilians to the Criminal Justice Training Commission and gives them more oversight responsibilities for use of force incidents.

BURIEN, Wash. — New police reform laws are taking shape this week that lawmakers hope will improve policing in Washington and reduce the use of deadly force.

Among the dozen bills Governor Jay Inslee signed into law in May is Senate Bill 5051.

A law that requires statewide oversight of police by the Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) which will now have expanded authority. 

The commission is already in charge of officer training, certification and revoking certification when necessary.

Under the new law, the commission is going from 16 to 21 members, increasing the number of non-law enforcement voices and decreasing the number of law enforcement.

"I have had several conversations with members of the community. Their voices will now be heard. But we still need law enforcement at the table to speak up when they think something is going sideways," said Monica Alexander, CJTC executive director. 

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Alexander said another big change under the new laws is the commission will now be able to review an officer's case before that officer is terminated. 

Some police officials say the new oversight laws are making officers nervous that mistakes could get them decertified or even arrested. 

"The last thing we want is to lose officers who are trying to do good work in the way we used to be able to do it and not understanding the difference between what's being required today," said Sergeant Darren Moss with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department speaking about some of the confusing language

Alexander said she understands that change is scary, but she also said that while there is a need for transparency, the goal is to work with law enforcement, not to punish them. 

"They think that the smallest thing is going to get their certification taken away, and people love their careers, they love their profession. I get that. This is not me sitting here with a book saying, 'Yup, revoked.' It's not that - it's a process," said Alexander, who clarified that officers can still go to court and appeal termination.

Also under the new law, broader background checks are required for new officers, and the commission will now maintain a publicly searchable database of officer complaints and their conduct. 

"I feel, and I still feel, lawmakers are trying to remind us we are accountable to the people. And we need to be transparent in order to be accountable," said Alexander.