The Justice System Committee reviewed police union contracts up for negotiation. Bellingham, Blaine, and Lynden will negotiate police union contracts in fall 2021. Ferndale and Whatcom County contracts will renew in 2022.
Learn about the minimum changes needed to ensure accountability to the public by reading these summaries prepared for Whatcom County law enforcement agencies.
Since January, the Justice System Committee has been tracking justice-system related bills filed during the 2021 legislative session. All bills listed below have been signed into law.
HB 1001 – Authorizes the development of a 2-year grant program to encourage a broader diversity of candidates to seek careers in law enforcement. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1054 – Requires law enforcement agencies impose new training and policies for vehicular pursuits; bans using chokeholds and neck restraints; establishes guidelines for using tear gas; requires developing a model policy for using police dogs to apprehend or arrest people; bans acquiring or using certain specified military equipment; and prohibits concealing badge identification information. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1088 – Requires law enforcement agencies to report officer misconduct, affecting credibility or any act of an officer that may be exculpatory to a criminal defendant, to prosecuting authorities. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1089– Requires the State Auditor to review completed deadly force investigations and allows the State Auditor to audit entire departments for compliance with standards. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1109 – Expands the statutory rights for sexual assault survivors and requires status updates on cases tied to previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits collected prior to July 2015. Effective date: 4/26/2021
HB 1267– Establishes the Office of Independent Investigations to investigate deadly force incidents involving officers. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1310 – Requires the Attorney General to develop model use of force and de-escalation tactics that law enforcement agencies must adopt. Authorizes using tear gas only to alleviate risk of serious harm during a riot.Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5051 – Establishes the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission to create and administer standards and processes for certification, suspension, and decertification of officers. Removes confidentiality of complaints, investigations, and disciplinary actions; and requires it be maintained on a public database. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5055– Standardizes and improves arbitrator selection procedures and prevents law enforcement personnel from entering into a contract that prohibits civilian review of officer disciplinary actions. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5066–Requires an officer to report another officer’s misconduct and immediately intervene when another officer is using excessive force. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5259 – Requires reporting, collecting, and publishing information about law enforcement use-of-force interactions with the communities they serve.Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5263 – Repeals existing laws that create hurdles for police accountability and prevent families and victims from recovering monetary damages.Effective date: 7/25/2021
Incarceration and Re-Entry
HB 1044– Expands opportunities for postsecondary education in prisons; requires an annual report on recidivism rates post release for those in these programs; and requires the Dept. of Corrections accommodate those with learning disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, and cognitive impairments. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1078– Automatically restores voting rights to felons after they’ve completed a total confinement sentence. Effective date 1/1/2022.
HB 1295– Enhances educational institutions’ ability to extend academic credit for language and general education to youth in or released from secure facilities. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5119 – Requires the Dept. of Corrections to investigate any unexpected death during incarceration and publish a report within 120 days. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5304– Expands the Medicaid suspension policy to include correctional institutions, state hospitals, and other treatment facilities. Requires full reinstatement of Medicaid benefits upon release from confinement. Effective date: 7/25/2021
HB 1140 – Provides juveniles access to an attorney before waiving constitutional rights. Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5118 – Expands the Intrastate Detainer Act to include persons incarcerated in juvenile rehabilitation facilities and allows individuals to request to resolve untried warrants in district and municipal court.Effective date: 7/25/2021
SB 5226 – Removes the option to suspend a person’s driver’s license for a traffic infraction, for failing to respond within 15 days, or for failing to appear at a hearing. Provides an option to enter into a penalty payment plan if a person is unable to pay.Effective date: 1/1/2023
SB 5038 – Makes it a gross misdemeanor to open carry a firearm at or within 25 feet of a public demonstration, the west state capitol grounds, capital grounds buildings, and other legislative locations. Effective date: 5/12/2021
The survey questions are below in bold; responses are limited to 255 characters. We’ve included some potential responses followed by character counts in italics below each question. Feel free to use them or provide your own.:
What skills and characteristics do you want to see in our next Police Chief?
Ability to build a culture & practice of policing that reflects the values of protection & promotion of the dignity of all, especially the most vulnerable (155)
Compassion for the community, integrity, and professionalism (61)
Trustworthy and transparent (29)
Commitment to eliminating white supremacy and systemic racism in the department and in the community (100)
What background, experience, and/or achievements should we consider when selecting our next Police Chief?
Demonstrated collaboration with community members to develop policies & strategies supported by data made publicly available in communities & neighborhoods disproportionately affected by crime (193)
Experience leading a department that achieved decreases in use of force and increases in de-escalation & alternatives to arrest (128)
Experience collaborating with communities to identify problems & collaborate on implementing solutions that produce meaningful results for the community (153)
What do you believe should be the top priorities for our next Police Chief?
Advancing transparency in data and reporting and accountability to the public (78)
Civilian oversight of law enforcement to strengthen trust with the community and hold officers accountable (107)
Building relationships based on trust with immigrant, indigenous, unhoused, and visible minority communities (110)
Tracking and addressing biased policing (40)
Curbing the excessive militarization of the police force by imposing meaningful restraints and adopting best practices (119)
Partnering with the city to develop 24/7 mobile crisis intervention first responder units that are not law enforcement (119)
What else would you like us to consider when selecting our next Police Chief?
Community engagement in this process requires meaningful opportunities to engage including but not limited to open forums with questions from the public, a transparent process, and members of the public enduring disparities on the hiring committee (248)
Reducing incarceration, focusing on rehabilitation, and reducing recidivism (76)
Review & publicly disclose candidates’ complaint and misconduct records, including lawsuits filed, as an individual and for previous departments prior (151)
**UPDATE: On November 24, 2020, Whatcom County Council approved a resolution Affirming Racism is a Public Health Crisis.**
Contact Whatcom County Council Members ASAP to call for their support of the resolution Affirming Racism is a Public Health Crisis
Riveters Collective Justice System Committee
Call or email County Council Members immediately to urge them to support all the actions called for in the resolution proposed by the Public Health Advisory Board on October 6, 2020.
Here is a link to the text of the original resolution, Affirming Racism is a Public Health Crisis: https://whatcom.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=8823936&GUID=13668448-68F0-46D0-AA9A-711C831294CD. County Council Members, acting as the Health Board, discussed the resolution on October 6, and voted in favor of having Council Members Elenbaas and Browne work on “updating the resolution.” They referred it to committee for a later date, possibly by October 27. There are excellent actions proposed in the resolution, “to ensure racial equity, equity of access and service and further to ensure the equitable treatment of all people, regardless of race or ethnicity.”
We do not want these actions – Sections 1-6 of the resolution – to be removed or weakened!
Dear Whatcom County Council:I agree that racism is a public health crisis in Whatcom County. I am calling on you to either strengthen or retain, as written, the actions in Sections 1 through 6 of the resolution proposed by the Public Health Advisory Board on October 6, “Affirming Racism is a Public Health Crisis,” and to approve the resolution with those actions included. I also call on you to take the actions recommended by the Public Health Advisory Board to “support County membership in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a national network of governments working to achieve racial equity,” and “approve allocation of resources within County budget process to address race equity issues, including staff training and outreach and engagement with communities of color.”Sincerely, [Name and Location]
While Bellingham turned out to express outrage at the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, it’s disappointing that Bellingham Police still lacks a permanent citizen community-led oversight body with a lead role in police accountability.
Instead, the Bellingham Police Department displayed the “blue lives matter” insignia — both desecrating the US flag and implying an alliance with reactionary and white nationalist groups – until the morning of May 31st.
While we appreciate Chief Doll’s willingness to listen the community and find a more inclusive way to honor those who have died serving Bellingham, we still need an independent civilian review board for true accountability.
Take action and demand that Black Lives Matter in Bellingham: contact Mayor Seth Fleetwood MayorsOffice@cob.org and/or (360) 778-8100and Police Chief David Doll at email@example.com and/or (360) 778-8600 to make your voice heard.
Feel free to use or modify the draft below.
Mayor Fleetwood and Chief Doll,
Recent weeks have been filled with devastating news: on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, police continue to kill black people.
The most recent death to receive national attention is the police killing of George Floyd as an officer knelt on his neck as he lay handcuffed in a Minneapolis street saying “I can’t breathe.” Mr. Floyd’s last words echo the words of Eric Garner in 2014 when he was killed by the NYPD and understandably provoked a community that never saw justice in the 2016 Minnesota police killing of Philando Castile witnessed and recorded by his partner.
While I am heartened by Chief Doll’s facebook post joining the chorus of law enforcement leaders across the US recognizing the excessive and unnecessary force in the death of Mr. Floyd and his swift action in removing the “Thin Blue Line” insignia from police department signage when community members raised fears about its association with white supremacist groups, we are still concerned about accountability regarding Bellingham Police Department use of force occurrences.
We appreciate the department’s de-escalation training as well as Chief Doll’s reassurances that the Bellingham Police Department reviews officer use of force at multiple levels, all the examples of review you cite are internal. True transparency and accountability require citizen participation, not only internal review. Body cameras and sharing statistics monthly and a start but without external oversight, these depend entirely upon the honesty and commitment of leaders. As I think we all recognize, not every leader is honest or committed to justice. This is why Bellingham must have a permanent community-led oversight body that is independent of the police department and fully empowered to investigate complaints and serious injury at the hands of police.
Many people find it difficult to report police misconduct to the police, especially for those of us who are visible minorities or who have witnessed or experienced less than professional conduct from law enforcement in the past. I hope we all recognize that visible minority members of our community – including but not limited to Black people, First Nations people and LGTQ people – have had [our/their] safety and freedom compromised by systems of oppression that discourage them from interacting with law enforcement.
Moreover, a permanent community-led oversight body could benefit not only an individual reporting potential misconduct, but also the larger community, the police department, and even elected officials. Potential benefits include:
Complainants are given a place to voice concerns outside of the law enforcement agency.
Oversight can help hold the police or sheriff’s department accountable for officer’s actions.
Oversight agencies can help improve the quality of the department’s internal investigations of alleged misconduct.
The community at large can be reassured that discipline is being imposed when appropriate, while also increasing the transparency of the disciplinary process.
When the oversight agency confirms a complainant’s allegation(s), complainants may feel validated. Similarly, when the oversight agency exonerates the officer, the officer may feel vindicated.
Oversight agencies can help improve community relations by fostering communication between the community and police agency.
Oversight agencies can help reduce public concern about high profile incidents.
Oversight agencies can help increase the public’s understanding of law enforcement policies and procedures.
Oversight agencies can improve department policies and procedures. Policy recommendations can prevent issues by identifying areas of concern and subsequently offering options to improve policing.
Oversight agencies can assist a jurisdiction in liability management and reduce the likelihood of costly litigation by identifying problems and proposing corrective measures before a lawsuit is filed.
By establishing an oversight system, public officials are provided the opportunity to demonstrate their desire for increased police accountability and the need to eliminate misconduct. i
Respectfully, I ask that you both uphold the mission of the Bellingham Police Department, “Committed to Community.” by establishing a permanent community-led oversight body for the Bellingham Police Department with a lead role in police accountability that includes communities who are disproportionally incarcerated.
Riveters Collective values a fair and compassionate justice system with decisions informed by data and community process. This is the community’s jail and should reflect our values. Acknowledging that Whatcom County’s existing jail requires upgrades at a minimum, we see an opportunity to implement a bold new vision. We expect and will support our elected officials in casting risky votes toward these ends.
We express our gratitude to county council members Todd Donovan, Barry Buchanan and Ken Mann for voting against sending an incomplete and costly jail proposal to the November ballot. The work of the Vera Institute of Justice and the Incarceration and Reduction Task Force is not complete, and while we don’t yet know what size our jail should be, in a recent email regarding the size of the proposed jail Vera wrote, “Using the correct population, one would arrive at a number more than 30 percent smaller.” That underscores a need to wait until the work is complete before developing a plan.
We are disappointed that county council member Rud Browne moved to put this costly jail on the ballot, and council members Carl Weimer, Barbara Brenner, and Satpal Sidhu voted in favor. The two council members who invested the most time into finding solutions, Donovan and Buchanan, argued forcefully for waiting and stated clearly that this proposal isn’t ready and will fail again in November. Their hard work was ignored in favor of haste.
We are disappointed that city councilmembers Michael Lilliquist, Pinky Vargas, Gene Knutson, Terry Bornemann and Roxanne Murphy voted for the Jail Funding Use Agreement (JFUA). This vote was premature; we expect a thoughtful, data-driven solution for our justice system. As citizens we are certain you have more power than you believe and wish you would have used your positions to urge the county to find a better approach. Given a choice between joining a poorly-researched project which perpetuates the prison industrial complex or declining to join and pursuing our own solution, we are ready to stand alone. At it’s core, the JFUA is a regressive sales tax that takes up 100-percent of our public safety tax capacity for the next 30 years. We also acknowledge that you each struggled with this decision, and we heard your statements as you voted yes — that you believed this was the best deal you could get for Bellingham in order to put some – albeit limited – funds into diversion programs. We thank city councilmembers April Barker and Dan Hammill for clearly expressing our shared values.
This year, Riveters Collective will work to defeat the jail ballot measure and will take pride in our work to find a better, more equitable path for justice in our community. We see better solutions on the horizon:
Bail reform so that people are not held in jail simply because they cannot pay
Fully funding treatment first, before incarceration
Diversion from jail, with incarceration as the last resort for those who are a danger to themselves or others; and
A new look at less expensive options for a new or renovated jail.
We believe that if we agree to put $110 million into a large jail in Ferndale, plus another $30-million for a sheriff’s office, that there will be insufficient funds for treatment, robust and effective diversion, or for re-entry into the community. Those are the very programs that make us safer. The proposed jail size, potential for expansion, distance from the courthouse, and proximity to Border Patrol are concerns. We will push for a serious look at either a smaller, less expensive jail or renovating our downtown jail.
Simply put, we believe that spending 100-percent of our public safety tax capacity for the next 30 years on a jail is not an investment in hope, but instead builds a legacy of despair. We stand ready to work with all of our elected officials on an equitable and comprehensive justice system after this ballot measure fails in November. Our goal will be an equitable, fair and less-costly solution that we can all support with pride.