Eastside police agencies are forming a team to investigate severe uses of force by law enforcement, and the team will function similar to other agencies already working in King County.
Washington voters approved the sweeping police accountability package I-940 in 2018. The investigation team stems from this, and is intended to provide an independent investigation when officers’ use of deadly force results in death or significant harm. Eastside police agencies from Snoqualmie to Mercer Island, along with the King County Sheriff’s Office and the Washington State Patrol, are slated to be part of it.
The group, known as the Independent Force Investigation Team — King County, will investigate uses of force. Their results are forwarded to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which will review the investigation and decide whether a crime has been committed by officers and whether to file charges against them.
Officers from a department that has an officer under investigation will not be involved in that investigation, and community members will be a part of the team.
Major Travess Forbush of the Bellevue Police Department said the purpose of the state laws mandating independent investigations are to increase transparency.
“It builds credibility, and it involves the community,” he said. “And these were all issues of concern from previous incidents where there was a deadly use of force.”
The community representatives on the team will attend all the briefings that investigators give to the chief of the agency under investigation. The representatives will be provided press releases prior to them being released to the media, and will be able to review the entire investigation when it is finished. The representatives will also be able to review conflict of interest statements from other members on the investigation team.
I-940 also created rules mandating law enforcement agencies adopt training and curriculum for violence, de-escalation and mental health training. The goal was to provide officers with more skills to defuse conflicts without physical or deadly force. It also emphasized police learn about bias, the history of race and policing, and interacting with communities of color and the LGBTQ community, people in mental distress and rendering first aid.
Police use of force again came under scrutiny last summer, after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, after a Minneapolis police officer knelt with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. This legislative session in Olympia, lawmakers are also considering a slate of police reform bills.
One piece of legislation, HB 1267, would require the creation of a new department in the governor’s office that would directly investigate use of force instances, removing them from local police agencies.
Other areas of the county already have organizations similar to the proposed Eastside investigative agency. South King County has the Valley Independent Investigative Team, which is structured similarly and includes police agencies from cities south of I-90.
The agencies involved in the Eastside investigative team include law enforcement agencies from the Washington State Patrol, the King County Sheriff’s Office, Bellevue, Duvall, Kirkland, Clyde Hill, Issaquah, Lake Forest Park, Medina, Mercer Island, Redmond, Snoqualmie and North Bend and the University of Washington.
At the Mercer Island City Council meeting on March 2, council voted 7-0 to authorize City Manager Jessi Bon to sign the interlocal agreement between regional law enforcement agencies to form the King County investigation team.
During the meeting, Mercer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes reviewed the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act (LETCSA) requiring that all applications of deadly force by police resulting in death, substantial bodily harm, or great bodily harm be investigated by an independent team of investigators, with no involvement from the involved agency. Holmes noted that his department plans to assign one detective to the investigation team.