Legal Standard On Use Of Deadly Force By Police In Washington Up For Debate

Nov 20, 2016
Originally published on November 21, 2016 9:18 am

Community uproar about police shootings around the country prompted Washington state lawmakers to review the use of deadly force. A task force they convened meets Monday in Olympia to adopt its final recommendations.

Washington state has one of the most protective standards in the country for police officers who shoot someone in the line of duty. A prosecutor has to find an officer acted with malice to bring criminal charges for a shooting that appears unjustified. There also needs to be evidence the cop acted without "good faith."

Police accountability activists say Washington's charging threshold is practically impossible to meet. They're proposing at a minimum to drop the malice standard.

“I think we all agree that malice needs to come out, whether or not we have the courage to say that publicly or not," said Joint Legislative Task Force on Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing member Karen Johnson, who represents the Black Alliance of Thurston County. “This is about ensuring accountability.”

Unions for front-line officers and troopers enter the task force's final meeting on the record as wanting to keep the law as is.

"I understand law enforcement has an honest belief that changing the statute will leave them too exposed, and put a chilling effect on their ability to protect the public," Democratic state Rep. Roger Goodman said in an interview Friday. "I understand communities of color want to see a change in the statute as an important gesture to build and improve trust between law enforcement and the community."

"At this point the two sides are divided," observed Goodman, who described himself as an undecided member of the task force. "We'll see what happens."

Seattle Seahawks star wide receiver Doug Baldwin, the son of a police officer, is expected to share thoughts about police training and deadly use of force during a public comment period Monday morning before the task force members debate the wording of their final recommendations. Baldwin along with other Seahawks players have become advocates this season for reducing police shootings and racial injustice.

In any case, the task force merely recommends. It's up to the 2017 Washington Legislature, which is narrowly divided, to take action, if any. There's also a citizen initiative in circulation to change the legal standard.

Goodman tallied 19 separate recommendations on the agenda to consider and vote on Monday from various interest groups on the 26-member task force. He said discussion of the legal standard for use of deadly force has dominated the task force, but there are other angles of the issue on the table.

Some of the proposed recommendations call for a detailed statewide database of police deadly force encounters, more funding to equip officers with less deadly weapons and better academy training on de-escalation techniques.

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