Police leaders call for more accountability from officers

Washougal police chief testifies in favor of proposed legislation

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SEATTLE — Law enforcement leaders in Washington state want more stringent laws to purge officers who lie or commit crimes.

Lawmakers began considering a bill Friday that would give a state commission more power to decertify officers.

Washougal Police Chief Ron Mitchell testified in favor of the proposal, describing how one of his officers was fired and then convicted of assaulting a man who was restrained in the back of his patrol car. That officer later was reinstated by an arbitrator.

"It gave us the appearance in the public that our officers are above the law," Mitchell said.

The Washougal Police Department fired Robert E. Ritchie in 2012 for violating the department's use-of-force policy when he repeatedly punched Tyler Lampman, 26, after Lampman spat on him.

Arbitrator Ronald L. Miller reinstated Ritchie after concluding the police department's punishment against the 28-year veteran was too harsh. The police department plans to continue fighting the reinstatement in the Washington Court of Appeals.

Under the proposed changes, the Criminal Justice Training Commission could revoke officers' certification if they're convicted of some felony and gross misdemeanor crimes, or if they're untruthful about a material fact. The proposal is from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Organizations that represent rank-and-file law enforcement officers testified against the bill, saying the new rules could circumvent the existing arbitration process. Some emphasized that officers don't want to work with those who lack integrity or commit crimes but that existing statutes deal with officer misconduct.

Geoff Simpson, representing the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, said a delicate balance exists between management and labor rights. He argued the proposed law would unnecessarily tip the scales toward management power.

"I don't believe this bill is necessary," said Simpson, whose organization also represents some commissioned officers. "The system is not broken."

The measure is sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats on the Senate Committee on Law & Justice. The panel did not vote on the measure Friday.