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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Change In Police Deadly Force Law Falters, Fight Not Over

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One casualty of the looming end of Washington state’s legislative session is a bill on police use of deadly force.

Washington has one of the highest bars in the nation for charging police officers who use deadly force. They are protected as long as they act in good faith and without malice.

The proposal in the legislature would have removed “malice” from the law, but that didn’t sit well with rank-and-file officers.

“Elimination of malice has a chilling effect on officers,” Carl Nelson with the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs said in testimony earlier this year.

But Democratic state Sen. David Frockt said the hard-to-prove test of malice erodes trust.

“That is a standard that is unlike anything else in the country,” he said.

Frockt said until malice is removed from the law, it will be hard to have a broader conversation about ways to reduce deadly encounters. And Frockt noted if the legislature doesn’t act, a citizen initiative is likely.

?Besides changing the deadly force law, Frockt’s bill would have mandated officer training in de-escalation techniques, implicit bias and cultural competency. It would also have directed the Attorney General’s office to collect and report data on the use of deadly force. And the measure would have created a grant program to help police departments purchase less-than-lethal weapons.

The proposals grew out of a legislative task force on police deadly force that met last year. That task force included police, prosecutors and community members. In a split vote last November, it recommended removing both “malice” and “good faith” from Washington law.

While there is disagreement over changing the law, there is broad agreement that officers would benefit from additional training and that the state should be collecting data on uses of deadly force.

Frockt spoke with Austin Jenkins on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

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."