OLYMPIA, Wash. – A task force looking at the use of deadly force by police in Washington could recommend changing a state law.
Currently, an officer cannot face criminal charges for using deadly force if they are found to have acted without “malice and in good faith.”
The ACLU and police critics on the state’s Deadly Force Task Force said that statute is unique to Washington and the most lenient in the country, making it close to impossible to punish a police officer.
“The word malice means evil. How do you prove evil?” asked Gerald Hankerson, President of the Seattle-King County NAACP.
He hopes when the task force eventually votes on recommendations to the legislature, they will encourage changing that law.
“I don’t think it will solve all the problems, but I think it will be a great start,” said Hankerson.
A bill to eliminate the "malice" and "good faith" wording did not pass out of committee during this year’s legislative session. An initiative could send the issue to voters next year.
Cynthia Softli, president of the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington and a community corrections officer with the Department of Corrections, has concerns about changing the existing law. She said it would make working in law enforcement more dangerous if officers have to think about potential legal ramifications before using deadly force.
“If there’s a threat, and I’m trained to stop a threat, I don’t want to hesitate,” said Softli.
The chair of the task force, Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said he does not know if he would support changing the statute.
“There’s no one solution. It’s a comprehensive set of things we need to do including training, collection of data, and perhaps changing the statute itself,” said Goodman.
Goodman said the task force will vote on a list of recommendations for legislators at its November meeting.