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Olympia task force meets to talk about use of deadly force by police

Taskforce meets at Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia to talk about deadly use of force by police, Sept. 13, 2016. (KOMO)

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A state task force created to review deadly use of force by police held a tense, marathon meeting Tuesday.

Panelists, who ranged from law enforcement, to lawyers, community activists and politicians, watched fatal police shootings on video, heard from experts on Washington’s use of force law and talked about the types of lethal and less lethal force used by police.

The task force was put together after a bill, that some say would have made it easier to file charges against police officers who use deadly force, failed to pass through the Legislature.

Task force member Gerald Hankerson, President of the Seattle-King County branch of the National Association for Colored People (NAACP), said Tuesday was the first time the group had even talked about deadly use of force.

“Unfortunately it took a lot of lives to be lost to be having this conversation today. I just don’t want to see nobody else get killed,” Hankerson said.

Until Tuesday, the topic was “the elephant in the room,” said Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe, who is also on the panel.

Hankerson said the law – which keeps police from being prosecuted for using lethal force on duty as long as they acted in “good faith” and “without malice” – needs to change.

“Today is the first day we get to talk about a conversation it was designed for talk about malice and removing deadly force,” Hankerson said.

Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) said they panel has until Dec. 1 to draft a report to give the Legislature. While Hankerson and others are hopeful they can push to have state law changed, Goodman called any change to the law “contentious.”

“This is a very difficult task we’re trying to bring together law enforcement and members of certain effected communities to find common ground,” Goodman said.

Jeffery Robinson, who is the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the task force that Washington has a uniquely worded use of deadly force law.

“Your goal is not to write a law so we can prosecute more police officers that doesn’t help anybody,” said Robinson. “Let’s think about the law in a way where we can reduce the number of lethal confrontations between police officers and the community.”

Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg, said his fellow task force members need to remember that deadly force is the last thing officers want to use.

“I don’t know of a police officer who comes to work any day who wants to come to work and use their weapon, use deadly force,” Hohenberg said. “We want to make sure that departments across the state have the tools and the training to use other options besides deadly force.”

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