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WA Supreme Court Rejects Attempt at Limiting Police Accountability

On July 15th, 2021, the Washington State Supreme Court unanimously reinstated King County’s police inquest process. The process was brought to the courts by police departments, including the Renton Police Department, and the county sheriff over reforms made by the county which make the reviews less favorable to law enforcement, some previously said the system was heavily favored to law enforcement. Some of the changes include additional trainings, while others create a renewed system for investigating and reviewing cases of police violence.

The inquest reforms began in 2017 when the county collaborated with several stakeholders including families of victims, law enforcement agencies, and other communities to create a fairer process. While there seemed to be agreement on the changes by many, law enforcement agencies then began suing to prevent the changes. According to some, the police agencies did not just fight some of the changes but nearly all of them.

In the background, public pressure was continuing to shift as Black Lives Matter eventually would erupt in the summer of 2020. While the agencies were arguing their cases, residents in Renton and across King County began a campaign to ask the police departments to drop the lawsuits. The same summer, County Executive Dow Constantine echoed the demands. Local groups like Renton Residents for Change and Renton-King County Alliance for Justice made public comments, while other groups would submit petitions to the City of Renton and other involved municipalities.

In August of 2020, a lower court agreed with the law enforcement agencies, keeping the inquest process at a grind until a higher court might take the case. But that happened, and, this month, the state justices unanimously agreed with the inquest process, and an additional case from families who were involved. With the addition of police reforms made in the state legislature, the county and state are expected to see significant changes in police accountability. Jon Schuldt, Chief of the Renton Police Department issued a related public statement on July 20th across social media to residents (below).

The 2021 Session of the Washington State Legislature brought a heightened focus on policing in our state with the passage of several police reform bills. Most of the legislation will not have a significant impact on our Department, as many of the bills address practices and protocols that are already in-place at the Renton Police Department and have been for many years.The Renton Police Department has always recognized the need to be progressive in our law enforcement services and we understand the importance that public trust brings in building that legitimacy. Even with the passage of these laws, our assignment has not changed: the safety of our public remains our top priority and providing you professional and unbiased law enforcement services continues to be our mission.

Chief Jon Schuldt, Renton Police Department (7/20/2021)

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