Washington state legislators are considering two bills that would hold police officers more accountable when they used deadly force, reports the Associated Press.
As of now, officers in the state cannot be held legally accountable unless it is proven that they acted without “good faith” and with “malice.” However, some lawmakers in both the House and the Senate are hoping to change that.
Two public hearings were scheduled for this this week after recommendations to change the law were approved in November by the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing joint task force. The Washington legislative task force was created by Governor Jay Inslee with the hope of reducing violence, and ultimately building trust, between law enforcement and the public.
The hearing for House Bill 1529 was held in front of the House Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday. It’s companion bill, Senate Bill 5073, had its own hearing, today, in the Senate Committee on Law and Justice.
Democratic state Representative Cindy Ryu, the lead sponsor of HB 1529, admitted that altering the current law will be a challenge, especially when it comes to striking a balance between strictness and leniency.
“It’s not going to be a quick fix,” she said in an interview according to the Associated Press. “We are going to have to spend a lot of time discussing the best ways to handle these situations, and meet somewhere in the middle.”
In November, the task force – which consist of legislators, prosecutors, law enforcement groups, and minority representatives – voted 14-10 to remove “malice” and “good faith” from the current law.
State Representative Roger Goodman, who is the co-chair of the task force and a sponsor of SB 5073, and Ryu both agree that the world “malice” must be erased from the law.
“That [malice] is too high of a bar,” Goodman explained. “There is no state in the country that prevents prosecution for manslaughter.”
However, Goodman believes that the phrase “good faith” should stay, as long as it is properly defined.
“You need to prove intent, and good faith is a reasonable standard,” he said. “We would just want to articulate what good faith means.”
It is important to note that these bills aim to do more than change the language of the law.
“We also need to protect law enforcement, not only through the language, but through generous support for their training and their other operations – it’s a package deal,” added Goodman.
Three major recommendations came out of the task force: new training programs, increased data collection, and the addition of less-lethal weapons (like stun guns) to an officer’s person.
Ryu noted that these things won’t be cheap. She estimates the bill will cost the state a minimum of $60 million.
An update will follow reporting on the substance of the public hearings.