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Police training focuses on de-escalation, making sure officer has way out

Academy instructors say the best tactic for de-escalation is to make sure the officer has a way out. "You're never going to have to jeopardize officer safety, ever," instructor Joe Winters told a class of new recruits. (Photo: KOMO News)

BURIEN, Wash. -- Law enforcement and prosecutors say they're eager to see the new 'use of deadly force" agreement take effect.

Among the changes is the call for more de-escalation training for officers. Long time officers will be returning to the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in Burien for refresher courses.

Often when you think about police academy training a safe takedown and arrest are what come to mind. But the new emphasis with the Initiative 940 "'use of deadly force" law is to prevent matters from ever reaching that point. The emphasis on de-escalation by calming people down in moments of crisis.

Amid outrage over questionable police shootings, the organization De-escalate Washington gathered nearly 360,000 signatures for the initiative to the Legislature to change the law by eliminating a requirement that prosecutors prove an officer acted with malice.

Under the state Constitution, lawmakers can approve such measures as written; reject or ignore them, in which case they appear on the November ballot; or propose an alternative to appear alongside the original on the ballot.

In this case, the Legislature crafted a fourth option: It passed the original — Initiative 940 — as well as a law to amend it with changes called for by police groups and supported by activists. That has prompted initiative promoter Tim Eyman to sue, demanding that both the initiative and the amended version be put before voters.

Meanwhile, the training of law enforcement officers continues.

The academy instructors say the best tactic for de-escalation is to make sure the officer has a way out. "You're never going to have to jeopardize officer safety, ever," instructor Joe Winters told a class of new recruits.

Training center Executive Director Sue Rahr said, "If an officer responds to a scene and immediately places themselves in jeopardy or places themselves where they don't have time to de-escalate, then that's when we end up with a deadly encounter."

Removing the word 'malice' from the requirement to convict an officer may not come into play that much, if at all, according to Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, "Based on my experience, dropping 'malice' from the statute is not going to have a significant impact because prosecutors almost always analyze these under the 'good faith' prong."

Lindquist said the new law keeps the requirement that if an officer acts in 'good faith' they are protected. Rahr said she does not believe the lowering of the standard will have a chilling effect on officers willingness to put themselves in harms way.

It takes effect June 8.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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