It is with serious concern that rank and file law enforcement officers in Washington adamantly oppose SSB 5073 (Deadly force bill) or anything with similar language. We as police officers find ourselves in Olympia at the Capitol having to fight to protect the right to uphold our oath and to protect the citizens of our communities across the state because of this proposed legislation.
We do believe there should be consequences for any officer who’s involved in a lethal encounter with the “evil intent” to take a life. To the contrary, if the officers’ split-second decision indicate they acted “without malice” and in “good faith,” there should be no question the officer responded appropriately. Rank and file police officers oppose any legislation that would take away these existing safeguards protecting the officer’s safety and liberty. Officers have no choice when it comes to responding to 911 calls, and this bill substantially creates a potential criminal liability for police officers using deadly force.
The “Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing Task Force” appointed by the governor are using nationwide reported data for deadly encounters as opposed to our own state-collected data — of which there is none. To change the current statute without real time objective research data from Washington police agencies is reckless and a dangerous commitment.
You should take notice, as we have, that the Washington State Prosecutors Association (WAPA) supports this bill of removing “without malice” as a statutory change but leaving “good faith.” However, they have refused to address giving up their prosecutorial immunity for malicious prosecution should there be an overzealous prosecutor (like in Baltimore) with political or personal reasons to charge a police officer in a deadly encounter. This immunity protects and relieves them from personal liability.
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The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and the Criminal Justice Training Commission do not speak for nor represent the views of the rank and file law enforcement organizations representing the officers on this issue. They represent executive leadership of their agencies and the Criminal Justice Training Commission. They were in opposition of this legislation until additional funding of $2.1 million was proposed in the drafted legislation.
A large majority of the deadly encounters law enforcement officers are involved in are as a result of a mentally disturbed individual who is unable to obtain or refuses mental health assistance. Changing this deadly force statute does not do anything to help this group of our citizens that need professional help. You need look no further than the county jails for examples and proof and the ongoing judicial oversight. The Legislature could be addressing mental health support and funding for individuals who are in need and/or are homeless.
Those remaining deadly force encounters could also be avoided if the individuals being contacted would do as they are told by the responding officers for their own safety and the safety of the officers. De-escalation starts here. It’s simple — doing what the police officer asks you to do could very well save a life.
In conclusion, the law enforcement is a proud profession and each officer swears an oath to protect the citizens of our community at all cost. While others have the opportunity to run from danger, a police officer runs towards it. Each call or situation is unique in the way it is handled and is different with each incident. One size doesn’t fit all.
Without specific protections in the law, officers may hesitate and that hesitation could be detrimental to you as a citizen or the officer. SSB 5073 removes the existing safeguards currently in the law and we ask for you to support our opposition to this bill until there is sufficient evidence gathered relating to deadly force in Washington that make it necessary to make a change.
This is the typical “cart before the horse” scenario in considering a change to this statute without a factual foundation to show the need. There has been absolutely no data collection to determine if there really is a problem. Supporters of this change are attempting to find a solution to a problem we don’t have.
Jack Simington is a 37-year law enforcement veteran serving the Tri-Cities. He is a national board member of the Fraternal Order of Police, representing Washington state and has served as past president of the state association and Tri-Cities Lodge #7.