By Alexis Myers
OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are weighing bills that would raise the bar on when an officer can use deadly force.
Current law shields officers from prosecution unless they acted with malice and without good faith. That could change with new legislation proposed in the House and the Senate this year.
The House Committee on Public Safety is scheduled to hear public testimony on two bills Tuesday related to recommendations from a task force created by Gov. Jay Inslee to reduce the number of violent interactions between law-enforcement and the public.
Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline, the lead sponsor of House Bill 1529, said in an interview the most crucial part of this process will be to find a balance and to create a feasible budget for the recommendations.
Ryu estimates it will cost at least $60 million to implement the task force’s recommendations, which include police training and data collection.
“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” she said. “We are going to have to spend a lot of time discussing the best ways to handle these situations, and meet somewhere in the middle.”
The task force voted 14-10 to remove the phrases “malice” and “good faith” from the current law, which makes it difficult to charge an officer for wrongfully killing a person. Ryu said if nothing else the word “malice” should be removed from the law immediately.
Rep. Roger Goodman, who is the co-chair of the task force and also the sponsor of the second bill being discussed at the hearing, said some of the language should be tweaked and some should be removed altogether.
“That (malice) is too high of a bar, there is no state in the country that prevents prosecution for manslaughter,” he said. “So that is language I would prefer to see removed.”
However, Goodman said he believes prosecutors need “good faith” to prove to a jury that a crime was committed.
“You need to prove intent, and good faith is a reasonable standard,” he said. “We would just want to articulate what good faith means … We also need to protect law enforcement, not only through the language, but through generous support for their training and their other operations — it’s a package deal.”
Goodman’s bill implements some of the task force’s recommendations, including the collection of data when deadly force is used, funding for advanced training programs and grant proposals to obtain less lethal weapons for primary responding — all of which he hopes to combine with Ryu’s plan down the line.
Advocacy groups including the Olympia Coalition to Reform Deadly Force — which formed as a result of the task force last year — want to eliminate the language and create better policing practices, while still protecting and respecting the work of law enforcement.
“We believe police officers should be held accountable for unlawful use of deadly force,” said Leslie Cushman, co-founder of the group.
James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said in an interview removing “good faith” from the current law is 100 percent nonnegotiable, but mentioned they are “open” to having a discussion about removing the word “malice” from the current state law.
“We fundamentally believe that any bill that attempts to eliminate good faith from the standard on police officer’s use of deadly force is not a negotiable thing for us,” McMahan said.
McMahan said the WASPC supports Goodman’s bill and any measure aimed to reduce the number of violent interactions between law enforcement and the public. The “no brainer” part of this legislation he said is to create a statewide uniform standard to track and collect data relating deadly force.