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Deadly force initiative moves forward in Washington legislature

OLYMPIA – Washington could get stronger laws on police brutality and lethal force under a pair of proposals working their way through the Legislature in its final days.

Lawmakers are trying an unusual tactic in an effort to amend Initiative 940, the Law Enforcement Training and Community Safety Act, which will go on the November ballot unless the Legislature passes it.

I-940 calls for better training requirements for law enforcement, including alternatives to deadly force, de-escalation techniques, detecting implicit bias and interpersonal communication.

The bill would clarify certain definitions and requirements for law enforcement, such as the definition of “good faith” where an officer uses deadly force.

It would also require the state to pay “all reasonable costs” for an officer who is charged with a crime and found not guilty.

“In our polarized and divided society, too often we’re focused on disagreements and conflict instead of bridges,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, the bill’s sponsor. “(It) provides the best balance between the expectations of the community, and supporting our law enforcement officers as they do a difficult and dangerous job.”

Having a bill to amend a pending initiative is unusual, but comes after months of discussion to satisfy both I-940 activists and some law enforcement groups that had concerns with the initiative.

The bill is designed to become effective one day after the initiative becomes law, should it pass the Legislature and be signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he likes the changes to the initiative but has concerns with the bill’s legality.

He’s worried some people who signed the initiative might not like the alterations and challenge it in court.

Goodman said it represents shared values between law enforcement and initiative sponsors.

“This isn’t a compromise, it’s an agreement,” he said. “There’s no watering down. This wasn’t some backroom deal.”

Steve Strachan, with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said the bill does a good job addressing concerns many of the association’s members originally had with I-940.

“We want to be a part of the solution,” he said. “This is the best way to move our state and our Legislature forward.”

Heather Villanueva, with DeEscalate Washington, said the bill maintains protections for marginalized communities while addressing concerns from law enforcement.

“We are steadfast in our support of I-940,” she said. “These values have not been compromised at all.”

The Law and Justice Committee sent the bill and the initiative to the full Senate.


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