A measure to strengthen accountability of police officers who use lethal force and that requires more mental-health crisis training has passed with large support from Washington state voters. Initiative 940, which earned nearly 60 percent approval, removes a barrier in state law that has made it nearly impossible to criminally charge police officers believed to have wrongfully used deadly force. The law’s previous wording made it one of the strictest in the country. Monisha Harrell is co-chair of De-Escalate Washington, the group behind the measure. She says families of victims killed by police led this measure, and she was with some of them when word came that I-940 had passed.
“It was nothing but joy. They have made incredible sacrifices in sharing their pain and sharing their journey with the public, to open themselves up and to be that vulnerable and to be that honest, and sharing some of their darkest moments. We certainly don’t take that for granted.”
I-940 went to the state Legislature earlier this year and lawmakers there passed a compromise bill addressing some of law enforcement’s concerns, and proponents of the initiative supported that bill. However, the state Supreme Court rejected the compromise, saying the Legislature couldn’t modify it, so the initiative went before voters. Opponents in law enforcement say the new law could cause officers to hesitate, putting them in danger.
Harrell believes the law will actually make police work safer and that training to help people with mental illnesses will make them better equipped to handle certain situations. She says this training will build trust between communities and law enforcement.
“All communities will benefit from that because it means that there’s going to be a greater understanding between communities and our law enforcement officers that are serving those communities, and we see that as only a positive.”
According to the Washington Post, 38 people were killed by police in Washington state last year, the fifth highest number in the country. Nearly a third showed signs of a mental-health crisis.