New law enforcement support for police accountability initiative

KING 5's Elisa Hahn reports.

The initiative that would make it easier to prosecute cops for misuse of deadly force now has a new backer, and she's running for sheriff. 

Major Mitzi Johanknecht, who is challenging John Urquhart for King County Sheriff, is one of the first law enforcement leaders to announce her support for "De-escalate Washington." 

The Seattle Police shooting of Charleena Lyles last month re-energized the push for a police accountability initiative, which would change the deadly force law in our state.

Johanknecht, a 32-year veteran with KCSO, is one of the first cops in the state to throw her weight behind the Initiative 940 announcing it in a press release Wednesday.

It would require police officers statewide to have more mental health and de-escalation training. But it also makes it easier to prosecute cops for misuse of deadly force.

Current law states that officers cannot be held liable if they acted "without malice and with a good faith belief." I-940 removes the word "malice" from the law and provides a legal definition of good faith.
   
Johanknecht said she's been meeting with initiative supporters and she was also influenced being the mother of an African-American woman.

"Our culture is changing across the country and the expectations of law enforcement," Johanknecht said. "How we handle crisis intervention, how we handle use of force and how we handle lethal force."

Johanknecht credits the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington as being the first police organization to endorse De-Escalate Washington.

In perhaps a mere coincidence, incumbent Sheriff John Urquhart is now also backing the initiative. Urquhart said he had been "thinking about and investigating 940," and was planning on announcing his support at a town hall Wednesday night.

"There shouldn't be any question about removing malice from state law there certainly never has been in my mind and never has been," said Urquhart.

Johanknecht said nothing of the timing, just welcomed the support.

"Any time a leader of a law enforcement agency, even my opponent, comes out in support of this initiative good for him," she said.

The leadership team of I-940 was happy to hear of the endorsements, and to learn that whoever leads the KCSO supports it.

"This initiative should be a step toward community and police reconciliation," said civil rights attorney Lisa Daugaard, "and it's great to see key law enforcement leaders embrace that concept."

© 2017 KING-TV


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