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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Spokane

Changes to lethal force law signed

OLYMPIA – Washington has new rules that govern how the state will handle fatal shootings by police officers, and all it took was for former adversaries to become allies. Then adversaries again. And finally allies again.

With a crowd of supporters so large that the ceremonial bill signing had to be moved to the state reception room, Gov. Jay Inslee put his name on changes to Initiative 940, which voters approved last November by nearly 60 percent.

The amendments, approved unanimously by both chambers of the Legislature, clarify state laws on the use of deadly force by law enforcement, requiring an objective standard for judging the actions an officer took. They also require independent investigations of fatal shootings, and revise the requirements for training on how to defuse dangerous situations and for providing first aid at an active crime scene.

It was an issue that over the last two years brought community organizations and members of minority groups together with law enforcement officers and the groups that represent them. The collaboration was unique, Inslee said, and the groups should be proud that everyone “stayed at the table” and kept negotiating.

“This bill doesn’t fix everything, but it is a start,” Inslee said. “It truly is another step in our long journey towards justice.”

After several high profile officer-involved shootings, community groups brought proposed changes to the Legislature two years ago to change the standard for judging whether an officer acted properly or could be subject to prosecution. When the changes didn’t pass, the groups filed I-940, which went first to the Legislature, where it met with solid resistance from law enforcement groups.

Initiative sponsors, law enforcement and other groups met with legislators last winter and came up with an alternative all could support. But rather than follow the constitutionally prescribed method of putting both the alternative and the original initiative on the ballot, lawmakers tried a short-cut, passing the changes as a bill and the initiative.

The Washington Supreme Court said that was unconstitutional, and put the initiative on the ballot, but not the changes. Community groups campaigned for I-940; law enforcement groups campaigned against it.

After it passed, however, the two sides got together to support the changes they had backed in the 2018 session. The bill sailed through both chambers, and was the first new law out of the 2019 Legislature.

“The Legislature just wanted to get something done quickly,” Inslee said Monday of last session’s miscue. He was initially worried that when I-940 went on the ballot, the two sides would pull apart.

But both sides assured him they’d work together after the election, regardless of the outcome, and “that gave me confidence” that the changes that all sides agreed were needed in the spring of 2018 would become law in the early months of 2019.

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