Our Voice: Police compromise on deadly force law is significant
BY THE HERALD EDITORIAL BOARD
A compromise on changing the state’s deadly force law appears more likely now that law enforcement officials have agreed to budge from their earlier stance.
Their move to the middle is laudable and significant, and we hope it makes lawmakers feel more comfortable supporting Senate Bill 5073, sponsored by state Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle.
Attempts to alter the law protecting police officers from being charged with a crime if they kill someone in the line of duty had, for months, divided law enforcement and civil rights groups.
Currently, if an officer kills someone while on the job, they cannot be convicted of a crime if they acted with a “good faith” belief that the action was justified, and if they acted without “malice.”
On one end of the debate, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs wanted no change to that protective language.
On the opposite end, civil rights groups wanted both “good faith” and “malice” clauses eliminated because they believe those requirements are impossible to prove.
And in the middle was a compromise offered by the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys that embraced a balance between the two extremes. Prosecutors suggested taking out the proof of “malice” requirement (which no other state in the country uses), but leaving in “good faith.”
Just last week, WASPC finally conceded and agreed to support the middle-ground legislation, which also includes money for new gear and extra police training that includes de-escalation tactics.
In addition, the “good faith” clause is better defined as what a reasonable officer would have done under the same circumstances.
While we think Frockt’s bill is a fair conciliation and makes a change for the better, there are still those who don’t believe the proposal would make enough of a difference.
According to The News Tribune, Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Black Alliance of Thurston County, said that under the proposed bill “nothing changes,” and she was disappointed to see that the recommendation that came from a legislative task force was “totally disregarded.”
But the recommendation she is referring to was not built on consensus.
Prior to this legislative session, the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing Task Force was charged with drafting a proposal on the issue for lawmakers.
In the end, task force members agreed to omit both “malice” and “good faith” clauses in the law. But of the 26 members, only 14 reportedly agreed to those changes.
Task force members representing law enforcement agencies opposed it.
In response to that division, prosecutors brought their proposal to the table. Now that extra training is also part of the deal, WASPC members have signed on to the legislation.
It’s a huge move, and paves the way for more bipartisan support from the Legislature.
While civil rights groups may not be happy, at least the “malice” clause will be removed — and that is a good step. And by leaving in the “good faith” clause, there is still some protection offered to police who are willing to put themselves in harm’s way.
This is a reasonable approach.
In an editorial earlier this year, Benton County Prosecutor Andy Miller said that “good faith” is generally perceived as a component in “stand your ground” cases that involve average citizens.
It does not make sense to strip away a protection from police that covers ordinary people.
WASPC made a leap to the middle when it left its extreme position, and we applaud that decision. Now it is up to lawmakers to see the compromise through.
So they changed nothing but can claim they did.
"Currently, if an officer kills someone while on the job, they cannot be convicted of a crime if they acted with a “good faith” belief that the action was justified, and if they acted without “malice.” "