OLYMPIA — The Washington state Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved revisions to Initiative 940, the measure voters passed last November to make it easier to prosecute police officers for negligent shootings.
The bill alters language about when officers can be held liable for using deadly force. While I-940 would have required officers to show that they believed they were acting in good faith when they used deadly force, the new language imposes an objective test: whether another officer acting reasonably in the same circumstances would have believed deadly force was necessary.
The House of Representatives unanimously passed the measure last week, and Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, has said he’ll sign it.
A two-thirds majority was required to amend the initiative so soon after voters passed it, but the initiative’s supporters with De-escalate Washington and police groups alike supported the new language.
Community activists had long tried to alter Washington’s law on prosecuting police, which previously required prosecutors to prove that officers acted with malice — a standard no other state required. When efforts in the Legislature failed, the activists proposed Initiative 940.
Fearing that the initiative would pass as written, police groups then joined the activists in difficult but constructive talks to come up with alternative language. Last year, in an unusual maneuver, the Legislature passed the initiative and simultaneously tried to amend it with a compromise version.
The state Supreme Court struck that down, finding the procedure unconstitutional, and the voters instead passed the original I-940 in November. But the police groups and activists agreed to honor the alternative they’d agreed to, and the Legislature passed it, crediting both sides for their efforts.
“There was considerable fear among (lawmakers) that that compromise would fall apart once the initiative was on the ballot,” Sen. Jamie Pedersen, a Seattle Democrat, said on the Senate floor. “I am so happy to stand before you … and report that those folks held to their word, that they came together, and that they brought back to us their compromise.”
The bill also tweaked a few other aspects of the initiative, altering the language concerning an officer’s duty to render first aid and requiring the state to reimburse an officer for legal fees if the officer is acquitted.