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Supporters, opposition join forces over this police accountability law


Supporters and opponents of I-940 are calling on the Legislature to amend it shortly after the police accountability measure was approved by voters in November.

I-940 makes it easier to prosecute police who misuse deadly force by removing the need to prove malice while also defining a good faith standard. It also requires police to render first aid and to go through new mental health and de-escalation training.

The initiative to the Legislature had a long and windy path to the November ballot. Law enforcement groups, including the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs opposed I-940 as originally written. But that led to an historic agreement between the police groups, lawmakers, and initiative backers (De-escalate Washington) on a bill [HB3003]. That bill revised 940 with agreed changes.

The state Supreme Court later ruled that process used to amend the initiative was unconstitutional and tossed out the consensus bill, however. That sent the original I-940 to the ballot.

Before election, day all sides vowed to push the Legislature to pass the revised version this session regardless of whether I-940 was approved  by voters. And since the initiative passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote the big question has been whether that would still be the plan.

Democratic Rep Roger Goodman – among the lawmakers who led the effort to get to the consensus agreement – says they are.

“All of the parties have agreed that we will enact this consensus agreement to improve and clarify the initiative to everyone’s liking,” Goodman said when we spoke last week.

Coming together

Those groups made that intention clear Monday at a press conference in Olympia, where they announced their united support for passage of consensus revisions to I-940 by the Legislature in the 2019 session.

Steve Strachan with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs – who opposed I-940, but helped craft the consensus bill – called the revisions an important example of what can happen when all sides listen to one another.

Members of I-940 backers De-Escalation Washington also praised the consensus bill and asked the Legislature to swiftly pass it when the session starts.

De-Escalate co-chair and Not This Time founder Andre Taylor, whose brother Che Taylor was shot and killed by Seattle Police in 2016, reassured community members that the revised bill does not jeopardize in anyway the changes and protections that came with I-940, noting if he thought it did he would never support it.

Democratic Senator David Frockt called the agreement that led to the revised version “one of the most profound and important agreements I have seen since my time in Olympia,” adding that he “wholeheartedly support this attempt to protect Washingtonians’ safety, and urge swift implementation of the compromise.”

Frockt will introduce the senate version of the legislation in the Senate Law and Justice Committee. Republican Senator Mike Padden has agreed to co-sponsor the legislation. Padden’s support is significant. He opposed the process the Legislature used to pass the consensus bill earlier this year and, along with Tim Eyman, sued to block it on state constitutional grounds – and won.

Democratic Senator Manka Dhingra, who is vice chair of the committee, also announced her support for the revised version Monday.

“The overwhelming support of I-940 underscores Washingtonians’ desire to address officer-involved shootings and ensure that our officers have the tools they need to respond to people in crisis,” Dhingra said.

“New legislation that clarifies and enhances the policies of I-940 importantly is a product of collaboration, listening, and trust among all the various groups, and will be a priority in the 2019 legislative session.”

Changes to I-940

Goodman says the revisions still remove the need for prosecutors to prove malice in order to prosecute in police misuse of force cases, but better defines the good faith standard than I-940 does.

“The bottom line is if a reasonable law enforcement officer would have used deadly force in those circumstances it’s justified,” he said. “If a reasonable officer would not have used deadly force then it’s not justified and then a prosecutor can decide whether or not to bring charges.”

That differs from the good faith standard already in I-940.

“(Initiative) 940 set up kind of a complicated two part test — Did the officer in question believe it was reasonable? And would a reasonable officer — so sort of an objective standard — have believed it was reasonable?” Goodman said.

Another key piece in the revised version would clarify how investigations are handled.

“Let’s say there’s a questionable shooting and there’s an investigation — should the police department involved be part of that investigation? And the answer is clearly no,” Goodman said.

He says they found that the collective bargaining agreements – the contracts between police and the different communities around the state — almost all say police agencies should not be involved in use of force investigations involving their own officers.

“We just put that in the law,” Goodman said. “Investigations need to be completely independent of the department that was involved in the shooting.”

The revisions also clarify the requirement for cops to render first aid to those they use force on, which in its current form in I-940 is a concern for law enforcement groups.

“Law enforcement have what’s called the public duty — it’s the public duty doctrine,” Goodman said. “Law enforcement are sworn to protect the public, and so what if there’s still an active scene that they have to attend to? What if there a number of people shot, including perhaps another law enforcement officer? And so we put language in this consensus agreement that makes clear that there’s a proper balance between the public duty of law enforcement and the duty  to render first aid.”

That new version makes it clear cops can call for first aid instead of doing it themselves and that securing the scene takes precedence over administering first aid.

The consensus revisions also keep the requirements for de-escalation and mental health training will become part of the curriculum for all new officers going through the academy. There will also be required hours for annual continued training.

Goodman admits there were some in law enforcement who opposed both versions and says it is not clear whether they’ll at least support the revisions now that I-940 was approved and is about to become law.

“But the vast majority of law enforcement across the state supports this agreement to clarify and improve initiative 940, not to repeal it, but to have it be put in place,” Goodman stressed.

And the big message here is “It’s a national example of how to bring police and the community together. To bring the police back into the community that they serve, and I hope that we can serve as a national model,” Goodman said.

Under state law an initiative passed by the voters can only be changed two years after it becomes law by a simple majority. But it can be changed right away with a super majority and Goodman says, after talking with fellow lawmakers, he believes they have that.

Goodman says the bill that will be introduced in the upcoming session is the same as HB 3003 except for the emergency clause it includes — which just means it will take effect as soon as it is signed by the governor.

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