State Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a report Tuesday to the state Legislature recommending policies that require law enforcement to report information about incidents involving deadly force. The report also recommends that the state create a centralized, publicly accessible website with information about these incidents.
Currently, there is no single location where the public and lawmakers can obtain information about the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers in Washington state, according to a State Attorney General’s Office news release. Deadly force refers to firearms discharges and incidents resulting in death or serious physical injury. Some individual law enforcement agencies have chosen to make deadly force incident information routinely available, but transparency is not consistent across the state and the information is not compiled in one place.
In 2019, the FBI created a national use-of-force reporting program, but the program is voluntary and only 10 percent of Washington law enforcement agencies currently participate. In addition, the information reported to that program is not publicly available.
“There is currently no public, centralized location for information on deadly force by law enforcement in Washington,” Ferguson said in the news release. “The public expects and deserves access to this information. These common-sense, broadly supported policies are long overdue.”
Ferguson’s report calls for two critical reforms:
• Require all law enforcement agencies in the state to report all uses of deadly force to the FBI’s National Use-of-Force Data Collection program
• Create a centralized, easy-to-understand website for the public to access information about all incidents of deadly force statewide
Because the FBI’s program already exists and is easy for law enforcement to use, requiring use of this program is the quickest, most cost-effective way to ensure complete reporting on use of force.
The report recommends that the state create a centralized public website containing this information so it is easily accessible to the public, policymakers and the law enforcement community. The website should include — in a simple, searchable format — regularly updated information such as:
• Date and location of incidents
• The agency or agencies employing the officers
• Type of force used by officers
• Type of weapon, if any, used by the member of the public
• Injuries, if any, suffered by officers and members of the public
• The demographic characteristics of the officers and members of the public, including sex, age, race, and ethnicity
• The reason for the initial contact between the officers and member of the public
• The agency or team investigating the incident
In the report, Ferguson writes: “We need to implement this reform. Calling for comprehensive, mandatory data collection on use of deadly force is not new, and should not be controversial. For example, in 2016, Washington’s Joint Legislative Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing overwhelmingly supported requiring statewide deadly force data collection. Then — and now — law enforcement officials have been among the stakeholders recommending standardized data reporting.”
Additional recommendations in Ferguson’s report include:
• Require state-level auditing of use-of-force data
• Require non-law enforcement armed licensed professionals such as security guards to report use of deadly force to the Department of Licensing, and require the department to post that information online.
Last week, Ferguson announced he will conduct a statewide inquiry into use of deadly force by law enforcement in 2020. The announcement followed revelations that the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office’s investigation into the death of Manuel Ellis failed to comply in multiple ways with the legal requirements for independent investigations into police deadly use of force. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Office investigated the death of Manuel Ellis for more than three months before informing the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney that a Pierce County deputy was involved in restraining Ellis.