Olympia, WA – Multiple police groups in Washington State have banded together to voice their opposition to a petition for a statewide initiative that would remove legal protections for law enforcement officers who are involved in deadly force situations.
“I know that there’s some deceptive ways that they’re trying to get their signatures, by saying this is an initiative that supports police,” Washington State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) president Marco Monteblanco told KEPR. “We feel otherwise, we don’t feel like it supports police at all.”
FOP and multiple police unions have refuted advocates’ claims that Initiative 940 would make communities safer, and argued that the true purpose of the initiative is to “make it easier to prosecute officers” in deadly force situations.
“This initiative has everything to do with the change to the deadly force law, and by giving the false narrative that it is about supporting the police is concerning,” Monteblanco said. “It would be extremely easy to prosecute an officer and it could be a situation where an officer get prosecuted unjustly.”
The initiative was spearheaded by De-escalate Washington, a “coalition of individuals and organizations” who “believe that race and bias are a factor in policing,” according to the group’s website. “As a result, people of color and marginalized people are disproportionately impacted by police violence.”
De-escalate Washington claims that the initiative’s primary focus is to require officers to utilize de-escalation techniques in violent situations. The initiative also mandates that police receive mental health training, and that they be required to render first aid.
“Lastly, because no one is above the law, the Initiative removes the immunity from prosecution for unjustified use of deadly force and replaces it with a good faith standard,” the group’s website read.
“It’s our perspective that the prosecutor’s hands are tied,” De-escalate Washington policy director Leslie Cushman told KEPR. “The initiative essentially unties the hands of the prosecutors.”
Under the proposed initiative, prosecutors would no longer have to prove that an officer acted with “malice” in order to be held liable in a deadly force situation.
Cushman argued that the initiative is not anti-police, and said that the proposed changes would “keep the community safe and keep police safe.”
“We expect to have fewer violent interactions, fewer deaths and safer communities,” Cushman said.
Law enforcement groups said that De-escalate Washington has misled people in order to gather signatures for their cause. They also pointed out that the initiative would require officers to undergo training that has already been mandated.
According to Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission executive director Sue Rahr, Washington officers receive nearly five months of training – 720 hours – to include de-escalation techniques, mental health and crisis intervention, KEPR reported.
Officers who were working before the latest academy training were required to attend training on dealing with people in mental health situations and de-escalation.
“Current Washington State Law Enforcement Officers are already mandated by law and accreditation standards to receive de-escalation and mental health training,” the FOP website read. “The Doug Ostling Act established requirements for Crisis Intervention Training (CIT)… First Aid training and the providing aid to the community is also a mandate that already exists. All Law Enforcement officers have a sworn obligation to help our communities, to include providing aid when it is necessary and safe to do so.”
The initiative also presumes that police are killing citizens without just cause, and implies that deadly force encounters are a mistake on the part of officers.
“The men and women across Washington State who put their own lives on the line to protect our communities are sometimes faced with split second decisions regarding the use of deadly force to protect themselves and the community,” the FOP said on its website. “De-Escalate Washington seeks to re-define the standards by which these cases are evaluated for criminal prosecution; making easier to achieve their goal – to put cops in jail.”
“We oppose Initiative I-940 and view it as an attack on those who risk their lives to provide safe, secure communities,” FOP continued. “Despite what signature gatherers may claim, this initiative does not work to reduce violence in our communities and is not supported by the law enforcement community.”
The I-940 petition had over 340,000 signatures as of Tuesday, and surpassed the threshold for consideration by the legislature, WEPR reported.
If lawmakers take no action on the initiative, it will appear on the general election ballot in November.