Law-enforcement leaders, responding to concerns about a string of fatal shootings by police officers, told state lawmakers Monday they are seeking to gain a better understanding of use of force by officers and looking for ways to reduce such incidents.
OLYMPIA — Law-enforcement leaders, responding to concerns about a string of fatal shootings by police officers, told state lawmakers Monday they are seeking to gain a better understanding of use of force and looking for ways to reduce such incidents.
The officials spoke at a work session of the state Senate’s Judiciary Committee, convened by the committee chair, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, to explore the need to expand officer training and examine how police agencies determine if force was warranted.
Kline noted there have been about a half-dozen incidents in the past several months involving the use of force by officers, saying he hoped it wasn’t a trend. Legislative staffers said the number was not comprehensive but represented news reports this year about lethal and nonfatal incidents.
The subject has become more pronounced since Seattle police Officer Ian Birk fatally shot woodcarver John T. Williams on Aug. 30, raising questions about whether he acted hastily. A Seattle police firearms board has preliminarily determined the shooting was not justified pending court inquest findings, according to sources.
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Seattle Assistant Police Chief Dick Reed outlined department training to lawmakers but didn’t discuss the shooting because it remains under investigation.
At the outset of Monday’s session, Kline said it was not a forum to bash the police but also not for law enforcement to act defensively.
Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, told lawmakers his organization has worked to secure a federal grant to allow researchers at Washington State University to review confrontations between police and citizens in the past five years to develop a list of common denominators. He later said he expects funding to be included in the federal budget.
Kline, in comments after the session, called the lack of data a problem, saying it is key to a remedy.
Spokane Police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick told lawmakers there is a growing trend among police agencies to ask other departments to investigate the use of lethal force or employ a team approach involving multiple agencies.
“That’s a huge change, culturally,” she said, noting the team approach is used in the Spokane area.
Seattle police investigate such cases on their own.
Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, told the lawmakers that officers need to consider de-escalation tactics more often, rather than refusing to back down during confrontations.
Jay Hollingsworth, a Native American who helped organize a protest rally in the wake of Williams’ death, said he has joined the Seattle Police Department’s Native American Advisory Council. Hollingsworth presented a fix list to the lawmakers, including mandatory multiculturalism training for police; mandatory time off for stress reduction of officers; and community dinners with police.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, speaking of the four Lakewood officers fatally shot last year, said he didn’t want to create laws that lead to officers losing their lives because they hesitate one second too long before using force.
Tom McBride, executive secretary of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said prosecutors must show malice and lack of good faith to criminally charge a police officer in deadly force cases, language state lawmakers enacted in 1985 when they tightened the law regarding such force.
Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or firstname.lastname@example.org