TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- A citizen advocacy group has petitioned a statewide initiative likely to push for hard decisions over deadly force laws, yet police unions strongly oppose the language of the initiative fearing it would set officers up to be charged as criminals.
The Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, among other unions, are expressing concern over a petition that seeks to crack down on police-involved shootings.
Coalition De-Escalate Washington believes police officers should only use deadly force as a last resort with Initiative 940, which began gathering signatures in July of 2017.
However, law enforcement leaders stress the opposite, saying the initiative would take away proper protections for officers doing their jobs.
High-profile officer involved shootings have underscored citizen advocacy group De-Escalate Washington’s concerns about law enforcement.
Advocates argue the state's current law is overdue for a change.
Initiative 940 calls for mandated police training and a higher chance of prosecution for officers involved in deadly shootings.
A spokesperson for De-Escalate Washington said Initiative 940's goal is to improve training, in mental health and crisis intervention.
"And to put an emphasis on de-escalation so that violent interactions are reduced to keep the community safe and keep police safe," said Leslie Cushman, policy director for De-Escalate Washington.
Cushman said I-940 also addresses the unjustified use of deadly force.
"It's our perspective that the prosecutor's hands are tied,” she said. “The initiative essentially unties the hands of the prosecutors."
Leaders of De-Escalate Washington said the initiative is pro-community, not anti-police.
"We expect to have fewer violent interactions, fewer deaths and safer communities," Cushman said.
But the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police strongly opposes the initiative.
"This initiative has everything to do with the change to the deadly force law, and by giving the false narrative that it is about supporting the police is concerning," said Marco Monteblanco, president of Washington State Fraternal Order of Police.
Monteblanco said the advocacy group used misleading language to gather its more than 340,000 signatures.
"I know that there's some deceptive ways that they're trying to get their signatures, by saying this is an initiative that supports police,” he said. “We feel otherwise, we don't feel like it supports police at all."
According to a joint press release from the Fraternal Order of Police, multiple police unions in the state have come out against the initiative, and claims that police promote and support the petition are untrue.
"It is downright dishonest for the initiative's promoters to claim I-940 is good for law enforcement and that our members support it," said Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs President and Seattle police officer Mike Solan.
Sloan added the true purpose of the initiative is to more easily put officers in jail, and encourages supporters to carefully read the language in I-940.
The Fraternal Order of Police supports more training, Monteblanco said, but they feel the initiative’s intent is to make it easier to prosecute officers for the alleged misuse of deadly force.
"It would be extremely easy to prosecute an officer and it could be a situation where an officer get prosecuted unjustly," he said.
Groups such as COMPAS, FOP, Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs and the Seattle Police Officers Guild strongly oppose this initiative as they believe it does not make communities safer.
The petition also calls for de-escalation and mental health training, which current state law already requires officers to receive, the news release stated.
The Executive Director of the Washington Criminal Justice Training Commission Sue Rahr said officers in Washington receive 720 hours of training—that’s nearly five months. She said their training is extensive, and includes de-escalation training, mental health, and crisis intervention.
"Officers in Washington get really good training,” Rahr said. “I wish we had the funding to do more, but what we do I think is very beneficial."
Rahr said she’d like to incorporate additional training for officers, but currently they lack funding for more.
"Initiative 940 does contain a lot of language prescribing police training, it does not contain in any language that mandates funding for that," Rahr said.
Rahr admitted she has concerns with the language in the bill.
"There's many places in that initiative where there are requirements that are not defined and I expect will lead to a lot of confusion and misunderstanding," she said.
Initiative 940 has enough signatures and has been sent to the legislature. If lawmakers take no action, I-940 will go to the November general-election ballot.
If legislators pass an altered version, both proposals go to the ballot.