Monday, January 25, 2016

Where is Police Excessive Force Bill?

Above: The Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia on Friday. As daffodils begin to burst forth in the warm late January sunshine, organizers with the Black Alliance of Thurston County are wondering why their proposed legislation to clarify deadly force by law enforcement officers has not yet been introduced.

By Janine Gates

What’s taking so long? Draft legislation that proposes to change the law governing the use of deadly force by law enforcement in Washington State has not yet been introduced.

Little Hollywood first wrote about this story on Monday, January 18,

Washington State Representative Cindy Ryu (pronounced Ree-oo), (D-32) was expected to be the prime sponsor and introduce the bill last week. 

On Friday, Little Hollywood was informed by Ryu's assistant that Representative Ryu decided earlier in the week not to prime sponsor the bill, and that Representative Luis Moscoso (D-1) was going to sponsor it. Attempts by Little Hollywood to meet or speak with Representative Moscoso on Friday were unsuccessful.

Black Alliance of Thurston County organizers are calling upon Speaker of the House Frank Chopp to allow the legislation to be sponsored and referred to a committee. 

The organization spearheaded the effort to clean up language in the current law under RCW 9A.16.040 and provide clarity when the use of deadly force is justifiable. They say that the main goal is to make sure the use of deadly force is used in the context where the risk to the officer or public is imminent and the use of deadly force is necessary.
The new language says, “The use of deadly force by a public officer, peace officer, or person aiding is justifiable when the officer reasonably believes that there is an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to a third party and that the deadly force is necessary to prevent it….”

Several phrases are stricken from the law that may cause an officer to be unclear in such a situation. 

The phrase that an officer “shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable” is also deleted. That phrase is used in Washington State as a defense against prosecution of an officer when the police officer uses deadly force. The phrase is replaced by "reasonably believes" which is a phrase found in the statutes of other states.

“Such clear guidance will benefit both law enforcement officers and the communities they protect, and will result in a law that upholds the role of law enforcement to maintain public safety and foster accountability and public trust,” says the proposed legislation.

February 5 is the cutoff deadline for bills to be heard in their house of origin.