Washington state initiative would change law on police use of deadly force
Law enforcement groups and backers of Initiative 940 have reached agreement on a bill to change state law on the use of deadly force by police officers.
“That gives us an opportunity to go forth with what the voters asked us to do; they saw a problem and stood up and said, ‘Listen, we need to do something about this,’” said Andre Taylor, chairman of Not This Time, an advocacy group he formed after his brother was shot and killed by police in North Seattle in 2016.
The discussions between law enforcement and community groups after voters approved I-940 in November is a model for “collaboration, listening and finding common ground,” said Ken Thomas, president of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs board.
“We believe this new deadly-force standard — clarified and agreed-upon by HB 1064 — provides a clear and objective standard that can be clearly understood,” said Thomas, the police chief of Des Moines.
Taylor, Thomas, and 20 other people on Monday urged the House Public Safety Committee at a hearing in Olympia to take swift action to send the bill to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature, possibly as early as next month.
The committee’s chair, Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said he anticipates the bill will move quickly. It requires approval by at least two-thirds of each chamber because it amends a voter-approved initiative.
Several law enforcement groups opposed I-940 last year, including the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs, and the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association.
HB 1064 clarifies the “good faith” test in the initiative. To be protected from criminal liability, an officer’s use of deadly force must meet an objective standard that will consider whether a “similarly situated reasonable officer would have believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to prevent death or physical harm to the officer or another individual.”
Before I-940 took effect, Washington state had a standard that required “malicious intent” to be proven before authorities could hold an officer criminally liable in an unjustified deadly use of force.
Goodman asked Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, about what he called the “flashpoint” of the debate over I-940 — what constitutes the “reasonable use of deadly force” by officers. Strachan said the initiative language was a “little bit complex, a little bit difficult to understand and certainly difficult to train to.” The law enforcement groups worked with community groups to clarify and simplify the standard, he said.
“We were able to come to a definition of deadly force that everybody was comfortable with and said what we wanted it to say, which is to remove ‘malice,’ to get to a balanced deadly force standard and one that officers and everyone else can understand,” Strachan said.
The bill includes the initiative requirement that an independent investigation be completed when the use of police force results in death, substantial bodily harm or great bodily harm to determine whether the force met the good faith test’s standard.
In addition, the measure requires the Criminal Justice Training Commission to adopt rules to require officers to undergo annual training on tactics to prevent situations from escalating to violence, and the issues of mental health bias and stigma. The bill does not require that training to be a condition of officers’ certification.
The bill also requires the state to reimburse law enforcement officers for the reasonable costs of defense if they are found not guilty based on justifiable homicide, use of deadly force or self-defense, or if those charges are dismissed.
If the bill becomes law, the next major step would be for the state to draft rules governing the law. The bill requires the Criminal Justice Training Commission to consult with several law enforcement groups, including the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police and at least one law enforcement group that represents historically underrepresented communities, such as the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington.
James Rideout, who formed Justice for Jackie with his sister, Lisa Earl, after her daughter was killed by Tacoma police in 2016, said he was grateful that backers of I-940 and law enforcement groups worked together to reach consensus on the bill.
“Our word is our bond. I have opened dialogue with Tacoma. I did not have a strong belief in the system,” said Rideout, a Puyallup Tribe council member who gathered signatures for the initiative.