The Washington Attorney General’s Office issued a model use-of-force policy as a resource for Washington law enforcement agencies.
The Legislature directed the Attorney General’s Office to issue the model policy by July 1. By Dec. 1, Washington law enforcement agencies must adopt a consistent model policy or adopt their own policy consistent with the law’s standards.
The policy is intended to promote safety for peace officers and the public by ensuring that officers use reasonable care when determining whether to use physical force or deadly force, and when using that force. To that end, officers are required to use all available and appropriate de-escalation tactics prior to using physical force when possible, use the least amount of physical force necessary to overcome resistance under the circumstances, and terminate the physical force as soon as the necessity for it ends. In developing the policy, the Attorney General’s Office solicited, received and utilized feedback from state and local law enforcement agencies and leaders, the Criminal Justice Training Commission, and a large group of community organizations from across the state.
“This model policy is an important resource for law enforcement agencies,” Ferguson said. “Officers perform a difficult, important job: helping keep the public safe. The improper use of force erodes community trust and reduces community safety. Adoption of this policy, and subsequent compliance with this policy, will help officers preserve and protect human life, and uphold the dignity of every person in our state.”
Use-of-force policies are rules governing when law enforcement may use physical force as well as the type and amount of force used. The proper use of force is essential for ensuring impartial policing and for building trust in the community. Agencies generally enforce their use-of-force policies through administrative discipline. Officers who violated their agency’s use-of-force policy are subject to administrative penalties.
In 2021, the Legislature passed several bills addressing officers’ use of force, including House Bill 1310. One provision of that law required the Attorney General’s Office to develop model use-of-force policies by July 1, 2022. By Dec. 1, agencies must adopt the model policy or a policy consistent with the model policy, or provide notice to the Attorney General’s Office stating the reason for any departure from the model policy and an explanation for how the agency’s policies are consistent with HB 1310.
By Dec. 31, the Attorney General’s Office must publish on its website whether agencies adopted use-of-force policies consistent with the model policy, or whether they departed from the model policies, and their reasons for departure. The website must also include copies of agencies’ policies.
Consistent with the legislative directive, the model use-of-force policy applies to all peace officers in Washington, but does not apply to corrections officers — aside from those working in the community — or other employees of jails, correctional or detention facilities.
Topics and length
The policy covers the considerations governing the use of force, including critical decision making, de-escalation, reasonable care and first aid, among others. It also covers chokeholds, select force tools, such as tasers, and select restraint devices, such as hobbles and spit guards.
The model policy’s length is consistent with the City of Seattle’s policy, as well as the New Jersey Attorney General’s use-of-force policy.
Research, outreach and engagement
In researching best practices and existing policies, the Attorney General’s Office reviewed use-of-force policies that have been implemented locally and nationally. The Attorney General’s Office consulted various use-of-force policies in Washington, including, among others, Camas Police Department, Hoquiam Police Department, Mason County Sherriff’s Office, Port Angeles Police Department, Skagit County Sheriff’s Office, Spokane Police Department, Seattle Police Department and the Washington State Patrol.
The office also reviewed several policies from around the country, especially the New Jersey Attorney General’s Policy. Unlike the Washington Attorney General, the New Jersey Attorney General oversees New Jersey law enforcement.
The Attorney General’s Office contracted with OIR Group to draft the model policy. OIR Group is a consultant firm with years of experience evaluating law enforcement agencies, analyzing policy, assessing oversight and providing other services aimed at helping law enforcement become more effective and accountable to their communities. OIR Group has worked with local governments, community members and police agencies to collaborate on the creation of reforms. The Attorney General’s Office retained OIR Group to assist with outreach, research best practices, draft the model policies and provide subject matter expertise.
Additionally, the Attorney General’s Office convened an internal team of attorneys and an investigator to provide input and review the model policy, including those with subject matter expertise in criminal justice, civil rights, mental health, protection of vulnerable adults and child welfare. The team included those who formerly served as commissioned law enforcement officers, as well as those who currently advise law enforcement agencies in Washington. The Attorney General’s Office asked former Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frank E. Cuthbertson to join its internal review group as a Special Assistant Attorney General.
The Attorney General requested input from every law enforcement agency in Washington, with several agencies of varying sizes and from different geographic areas providing their perspectives. Additionally, the Attorney General’s Office solicited and received input from dozens of community and civil rights organizations, law enforcement associations and tribal governments. The AGO published draft model polices on May 23 and invited public comments. The draft generated considerable interest and the AGO logged more than 1,000 comments.
Source: Washington Attorney General's Office