Washington is unique among states with its legal standard for police use of force against civilians. It requires proof that an officer acted with malice or “evil intent” before he or she can be held liable criminally.
This legal flaw has let a few officers avoid criminal consequences — even in cases of obvious negligence. This undermines public trust in police.
That is why the standard for lawful shootings must be changed. But it also needs to be one in a manner that does not also open officers to undue risk.
Early this week advocates on both sides of this difficult use-of-force issue forged an unexpected compromise. Incorporated into House Bill 3003, the compromise could fix the law, rebuild public trust and make communities safer.
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The Legislature — which is racing to pass a budget, fully fund K-12 schools and improve the state’s mental health system — should pass this bill in the waning hours of their 60-day session that ends at midnight Thursday (March 8).
The House bill contains many of the elements in Initiative 940, which is headed to the November ballot. But while HB 3003 embraces the larger goals of I-940, it does so in nuanced ways that have support from police groups, advocacy groups and prosecutors.
Both measures set a new standard that considers whether an officer using deadly force has acted in good faith and whether a reasonable officer would have done the same in similar circumstances.
Both the bill and initiative also deal with officer training standards and the duty an officer has to save life – including that of suspects – at a crime scene. But HB 3003 has tweaked language dealing with an officer’s first-aid duty, mandates for de-escalation training and other aspects.
This refinement is why HB 3003 passed out of the House Public Safety Committee on Tuesday with unanimous support from lawmakers of both parties and also passed the full House
Moreover, sponsors of I-940 agree. And the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs is among law enforcement groups supporting the compromise.
Unfortunately the bipartisan co-sponsors of HB 3003 have a risky and untested strategy to keep the initiative off the ballot. They want to first adopt the initiative as law, which would keep it off the ballot, and then they would amend the newly adopted initiative with the language of HB 3003.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, has raised concerns that this novel two-step legislative maneuver may be unconstitutional.
On Wednesday the bill was approved by the full House on a vote of 73-25. It is in the public’s interest that the Senate follow suit by passing the bill.
Failing that, lawmakers must give voters a second choice in November. If the two-step maneuver doesn’t work, they should put the text of HB 3003 on the ballot as an alternative to I-940.
State law provides this option for initiatives to the Legislature such as I-940.