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Supporters gathering signatures for initiative on police accountability

Signature gathering officially launched for Initiative 940 on Thursday, on the steps of Seattle City Hall, by a coalition of families affected by fatal police shootings. They're hoping to update Washington State’s use of deadly force law. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE - An attempt to update Washington State’s use of deadly force law is underway.

Signature gathering officially launched for Initiative 940 on Thursday, on the steps of Seattle City Hall, by a coalition of families affected by fatal police shootings.

At its core, I-940 is about accountability.

It would allow prosecutors to charge police officers for misuse of deadly force. Current state law makes it nearly impossible for prosecutors to do so.

“I’ve heard people say, 'are you trying to make it easier to prosecutor police officers?' not at all,” said Andre Taylor, the brother of Che Taylor who was shot and killed by two Seattle police officers in 2016. “We are trying to make it possible, in the State of Washington it’s not even possible.”

The initiative also requires de-escalation and mental health intervention training of all police officers in the state, and mandates officers to render first aid on the scene if a civilian is injured by a police officer.

“With these changes, there's a standard that an officer has to live up to, that they don't have to live up to now”, said Taylor, who is a leader of De-escalate Washington, the coalition of families, union representatives and tribal members behind the initiative.

The family of Charleena Lyles believes she would still be alive if I-940 were law. The pregnant mother of four was shot by Seattle Police officers in June, after they said Lyles threatened them with knives.

“This law makes them accountable for getting proper de-escalation training and using it,” said Katrina Johnson, a cousin of Lyles.

“I could have de-escalated this myself,” said Monika Williams, Lyles older sister. “How two trained officers couldn't de-escalate the situation and felt that deadly force is what was needed - I don't think that you should be a police officer.”

A press release says the Executive Board of the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington supports Initiative 940.

King County Sheriff John Urquhart likes what he sees in the Initiative.

“This bill will put both objective and subjective standards and I think that’s fine, we need that,” said Urquhart.

He said the “good faith” standard that an officer followed all lawful conduct to de-escalate a situation is an improvement over the term “with malice” that is in the current law.

The sheriff plans to voluntarily implement some of the training outlined in the initiative.

“In the next 12 to 18 months, every single one of my patrol officers is going to be trained up to 40 hours,” said Urquhart. “It’s just too important not to do that”

If 260,000 signatures are submitted by the end of the year to the Secretary of State's office, it would force state lawmakers in the 2018 legislative session to consider it – otherwise it can go on the 2018 ballot, but no sooner.

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