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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."

After Seattle Police Shooting, Renewed Call For Change In Law

Megan Farmer
A photograph of Charleena Lyles is shown at a memorial on Monday. Lyles was shot to death by Seattle police on Sunday.

A state senator from Seattle is renewing his call to rewrite Washington’s police deadly force law. Democrat David Frockt represents the legislative district where Seattle police shot and killed Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother of four on Sunday.

“We’ve seen these kinds of incidents around the country and there’s going to be a lot of scrutiny on this one,” Frockt said. “And I think it’d be better if we didn’t have, I think, the worst law in the country on this issue on the books in statute. We have to change this law.”

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

Frockt has been working for months on legislation to remove the word “malice” from the law, while at the same time giving officers more training and resources.

Specifically, Frockt’s proposal calls for additional training in de-escalation and implicit bias as well as equipping more officers with less-than-lethal tools like Tasers.

He said Sunday’s shooting highlights the need for reforms.

“You’ve got Charleena Lyles who lost her life, you’ve got officers who I’m sure this will change their lives forever however this plays out and then you’ve got four kids … this is a huge tragedy and we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Frockt said.

His proposal 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.

Front line police officers have resisted changing the law. However, Frockt and House Public Safety chair Roger Goodman, also a Democrat, said discussions with police groups recently resumed prior to the Seattle shooting.

“I’m not very optimistic at the moment, but we are continuing to talk,” Goodman said.

The Washington legislature is currently meeting in an overtime session to address the budget, but non-budget issues could be part of the final package of bills that pass.

Meanwhile a campaign called Washington for Good Policing has filed an initiative to change Washington’s deadly force law.

“I’d rather not solve this problem by initiative, which is a blunt instrument,” Goodman said.

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."