Legislation introduced early this session by Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, would restrict avenues used by police who have been disciplined by their superiors to overturn or reduce those disciplinary actions and gain reinstatement despite serious misconduct.
According to a Jan. 17 Washington state Senate Democrats news release, a glaring example of the existing gap in accountability has been playing out for more than a year in Kent, where the city has been unable to resolve the case of an assistant police chief accused of multiple acts of on-duty displays of pro-Nazi insignia.
Kent Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell had initially been issued a two-week suspension—and allowed to draw paid vacation during that time—after posting Nazi rank insignia outside his office door, joking about the Holocaust, and engaging in other misconduct in September of 2020.
In response to subsequent public criticism, Kent Police Chief Rafael Padilla and Kent Mayor Dana Ralph posted a video Jan. 7 in which they sought to explain the city’s handling of the case. Though Padilla said Kammerzell had been “untruthful” with investigators, which would constitute grounds for firing, Padilla indicated that he chose not to fire him because of the risk that the firing would be overturned in arbitration.
A recent editorial in the Seattle Times has called for Kammerzell’s resignation. Mayor Ralph has asked the Kent Police Officers Association for his resignation, but the union or Kammerzell has not issued a response.
Salomon, meanwhile, is proposing a remedy, according to the news release.
His Senate Bill 5677 would improve accountability in the Kammerzell case and in similar situations by mandating consistent practices for complaints, investigations, discipline, and disciplinary appeals for serious misconduct.
“Most cops provide valuable, stellar service,” Salomon said, “but there are some who do not and are able to evade proper and just discipline. As things stand, officers who are disciplined by their supervisors for dishonesty or excessive force can hire private lawyers to second-guess the discipline imposed and who have legal power to overturn that discipline through arbitration.”
Studies show discipline is reduced or overturned in about half of matters that go to arbitration, undercutting the ability of police chiefs and sheriffs to enforce standards of honesty and care in the exercise of force, Salomon said.
Among other things, SB 5677 would:
• Require jurisdictions to implement statewide standards for investigating complaints of serious misconduct by law enforcement officers.
• Define serious misconduct to include conduct resulting in suspension, demotion, transfer or termination.
• Place a civilian in charge of the investigating authority and require civilian staff to conduct or participate in complaint handling and investigations.
• Require investigation findings within 180 days of the filed complaint.
• Require jurisdictions to develop and implement discipline and appeals processes.
“The public deserves assurance that public servants are worthy of their trust,” Salomon said, “just as the countless upstanding police officers across our state deserve to be free of the clouds of suspicion created by bad actors.”