People Who Want to Make it Easier to Prosecute Cops Who Kill Might Get Their Way Soon

For two years, police-reform groups have unsuccessfully tried to convince state lawmakers to make it easier to prosecute law enforcement officers who kill in the line of duty.

Those reformers now might have something on their side to put their efforts over the top: Political leverage.

A group called De-Escalate Washington has decided to push its proposed changes as an initiative to the Legislature in 2018.

If the campaign hits its 260,000-signature target by the end of the year, it will bring a bill to the Capitol that would lower the state’s uniquely high bar for prosecuting officers who improperly use deadly force. Group leaders say the measure would increase police accountability.

Key lawmakers say the threat of the initiative going to the ballot gives De-Escalate Washington the upper hand should it choose to negotiate a legislative alternative with police groups that have stuffed more modest change in the Legislature.

Those against revamping the law, namely the Fraternal Order of Police, say Initiative 940 could lead to witch hunts against police who make honest mistakes in stressful situations. But lawmakers who have been deeply involved in the debate say the Fraternal Order might be more willing to strike a deal on an compromise to avoid a vote of the people on I-940.

De-Escalate Washington, which launched in July, said in a news release Thursday it had about 160,000 signatures so far.

“Bottom line is, I think the opponents might realize that a legislative solution is better for them than the initiative,” said Sen. Mike Padden, a Republican from Spokane Valley who chairs the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee.

There are three outcomes possible with an initiative to the Legislature. Lawmakers can pass it. They can approve an alternative to compete with I-940 on the fall 2018 ballot — possibly one that unites police and community advocates as a compromise. Or they can do nothing, sending Initiative 940 to the ballot by itself.

Trevor Severance, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the organization is concerned about I-940 becoming a ballot measure. But he said it was too early to say if his organization would change its stance to strike a compromise.

“I’m not in a position to speak on that yet,” he said. “We’re always open to finding a solution that works (for reformers and police). So far the solutions that we’ve seen don’t work for us.”

Washington’s law requires proof an officer acted with “malice” and without “good faith” before they can be convicted of criminal charges for using deadly force.

The “malice” standard is unique in the country. County prosecutors say it effectively blocks them from charging officers with anything less than murder for improperly using deadly force.

All of the state’s county prosecutors say they want an option to charge officers with lesser crimes, mainly manslaughter, in cases where an officer kills someone in a reckless or negligent manner.

A person is guilty of murder and not manslaughter if they were acting with malice, or evil intent, when they kill someone, legal experts say.

The Washington Post reports 29 people have been fatally shot by police in Washington so far in 2017, a per-capita number higher than nearby Oregon, California and Idaho.

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 5618 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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