Dozens gathered in Olympia Tuesday night for a joint Senate Law and Justice Committee and House Public Safety Committee hearing on Initiative 940, known as “De-escalate Washington.” The initiative would make it easier to prosecute police for misuse of deadly force and require more training for officers.
Current state statute says officers can’t be held liable in a shooting if they acted “without malice and with a good faith belief.”
I-940 takes out the word “malice” and further defines the “good faith” standard. It also would require more de-escalation, first aid and mental health training for officers.
Thirty-six people signed up to testify either in favor, or against, the measure.
Katrina Johnson, who is a cousin of Charleena Lyles, was among those who testified. Lyles was shot and killed last summer by two Seattle police officers.
“There was no de-escalation used," Johnson said. "Had there been de-escalation used, she would still be here today. We have to grieve. We have to fight. And it is time for you guys to do your part to help us.”
There are some in law enforcement who endorse I-940, including King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht, but the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs is against it.
The group’s executive director, Steve Strachen, is urging lawmakers to come up with an alternative to the initiative.
“Our law enforcement officers need support, an acknowledgment of the unique challenges they face, and a clear understanding of what is expected. So while we oppose Initiative 940, we’re not just saying no. We’re interested in actively coming together with proponents of I-940 to find a better way,” he said.
Sue Rahr, with the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, also raised concerns during her testimony about a lack of funding attached to the proposal.
"De-escalation first starts with patrol tactics, and many of the tragedies we've seen across the country and here at home are rooted in problems with the tactical approach to the situation. So this training is not going to be something that a person can take online and check a box," Rahr said.
Lawmakers may pass the initiative as is, create an alternative, reject the measure, or fail to act. If they choose either of the last two options, the initiative will be on the fall ballot. If lawmakers choose to write an alternative, voters would see both measures.