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Lawmakers Hesitant On Changes To Washington’s Police Deadly Force Law

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
FILE - In this March 10, 2016, file photo, the Legislative Building is shown at dusk at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash.

Should it be easier to criminally charge police officers in Washington who use deadly force? A legislative task force says “yes”—but the vote was far from unanimous. Washington lawmakers are undecided on the issue as they convene Monday for their 2017 session.

Washington has one of the highest bars in the nation for charging a police officer who kills someone in the line of duty. A prosecutor would have to show that the officer acted with malice and not in good faith. A task force formed by the legislature last year narrowly recommended taking malice and good faith out of the law.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a Republican, isn’t persuaded.

“Right now, I haven’t seen anything I could support,” said Schoesler.

Democrats are also noncommittal on changing the law at this point. But Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, a Democrat, says there may be other things the legislature can do to reduce deadly encounters between the police and citizens.

“One solid recommendation that’s coming out of this is we need more training for our officers on the ground,” said Nelson.

There’s also a recommendation from the task force to create a statewide database on the use of deadly force by officers.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.