Police-reform advocates and law enforcement groups are “millimeters” away from striking a deal to change Washington's uncommon law that shields officers who kill in the line of duty, state Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said Monday.
Goodman, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, said lawmakers plan to approve the compromise measure quickly before the 60-day legislative session ends Thursday.
Most details of the potential agreement are still unknown. But Goodman said the bill is expected prevent Initiative 940 from going to the ballot through legislative maneuvering. An agreement is also expected to rewrite the heart of I-940, which proposes sweeping changes to the standard for how police can legally use deadly force.
A compromise deal will still lower the bar for prosecuting police who use deadly force recklessly or negligently, Goodman said.
He added the legal standard for deadly force has been “streamlined” from the I-940 proposal after “very constructive helpful comments from both sides.”
Reforming the legal standard is a long-stated goal of the minority groups and community advocates behind I-940, who say the change will hold police more accountable and reduce police deadly shootings.
Front-line police unions have long protested a change to the law, saying it is needed to prevent charges against police who make honest mistakes and to keep officers from hesitating to protect themselves in dangerous situations.
Faced with an impending ballot measure, an agreement would represent a remarkable twist after years of debate on the issue.
“I think this will make a tangible difference in public safety,” Goodman said Monday.
State law requires prosecutors to prove an officer acted with “malice” and without “good faith” when using deadly force to convict him or her of a criminal charge.
Prosecutors say the malice standard, which is unique in the country, blocks manslaughter convictions for officers who recklessly or negligently kill people in the line of duty. That’s because malice, or evil intent, is an element of murder but not manslaughter.
Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim has said murder is, in effect, the only charging option available to prosecutors.
Only one officer has been criminally charged for using deadly force in the last decade, according to a Seattle Times analysis.
Goodman said the compromise legislation would open up manslaughter charges for police who unjustifiably use deadly force.
Leslie Cushman, a co-chair of the I-940 campaign De-Escalate Washington, declined to comment Monday but said the group would have a statement on Tuesday, when the measure is expected to have a public hearing.
Trevor Severance, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, said Monday his organization wouldn’t comment unless a deal is finalized.
Tom McBride, executive secretary of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Typically lawmakers have three options with an initiative to the Legislature.
They can approve I-940 as is. They can pass an alternative to compete with the initiative on the fall 2018 ballot. Or they can do nothing, sending the measure to the ballot by itself.
Goodman said lawmakers hope to work around those constraints to bypass the initiative process. They expect to pass I-940 unchanged, and then quickly pass a follow-up measure to amend the law with the changes agreed to by police groups and reform advocates.
The strategy has never been used before, Goodman said.
I-940 also would also create new requirements for officers to provide first aid and receive de-escalation and mental health-related training, among other changes to the criminal-justice system.
Goodman didn’t give details on how or if those requirements would be changed, but said there were “at least a dozen changes” that “improve and streamline and clarify the initiative.”
He said changes to training “would pretty much stay in place.”
Goodman said the compromise can get that new training rolling sooner. It also comes with other perks.
“We can avoid a contentious adversarial fight on the ballot that would worsen relationships between police and the community,” Goodman said. “It’s time for healing now.”