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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."

Police Deadly Force Suddenly Back On The Agenda In Olympia

Tony Webster
Wikimedia -
File photo. A possible compromise between police, community groups and lawmakers on police use of deadly force might be coming in the Washington Legislature.

As the Washington Legislature enters its final week, a deal may be coming together to change the state’s law regarding police use of deadly force. Back-to-back public hearings on a new bill have been hastily scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in the House and Senate.

     This story has been updated

Current Washington law protects police from criminal prosecution so long as they act in good faith and without malice. It’s been described as one of the most protective laws in the nation for police officers.

This winter, a group calling itself De-Escalate Washington qualified an initiative to the Legislature that lowers that standard. But many front line police officers are not comfortable with the initiative’s two-part definition of good faith.

Over the past several weeks, House Public Safety Chairman Roger Goodman, a Democrat, said he’s been negotiating new good faith language with police, prosecutors, the De-Escalate Washington campaign and lawmakers.

Late Monday, Goodman said he was “a millimeter away” from having a deal that would keep Initiative 940 off the November ballot.

“We can avoid a contentious, adversarial fight on the ballot that would worsen the relationship between police and the community,” Goodman said. “It’s time for healing now, we need to be bringing the community and the police together and I think we should serve as a national model on that.”

Goodman did not provide the exact compromise language, but said it removes malice and streamlines the definition of good faith. “The good faith test will be much more workable under our clarifying bill,” Goodman said.

The De-Escalate Washington campaign said it had no comment, but would issue a statement on Tuesday. Republican state Representative Dave Hayes, who is a sheriff’s deputy and is a co-sponsor of the compromise bill with Goodman, was not available for comment.

Goodman said the change in the good faith standard would allow prosecutors to criminally charge police officers who act recklessly.

“[It’s a] law that will hold accountable those extremely rare circumstances that might shock the conscience that don’t happen very often at all and I hope never happen again,” Goodman said.

Goodman said if the deal holds together, the Legislature plans to pass Initiative 940 and then quickly amend it with new, compromise language defining good faith. That would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Besides a new good faith standard, Initiative 940 requires police to receive additional training on de-escalation techniques and dealing with people who are mentally ill. Goodman said those training provisions would remain intact under his compromise deal.

“I think this will make a tangible difference in public safety and for people particularly in underrepresented communities feeling safer in their neighborhoods,” Goodman said.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Thursday.

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."