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Supporters confident I-940 police ‘de-escalation’ measure will make it on ballot next year

SEATTLE — For the first time, the group De-Escalate Washington can say they are confident Initiative 940 will get on the ballot next year.

But just to make sure, the group will continue their campaign until they get 350,000 signatures.

Supporters say I-940 would require police officers to get 40 hours of training to learn how to de-escalate crisis situations.

Certain police departments, like Seattle’s, already require officers to get that amount of training. But the group says they want it statewide.

“We want to prevent shootings so we want to implement more de-escalation training,” De-escalate Washington campaign manager Riall Johnson said.

But the core of the initiative is about changing state law.

Right now, the courts have to prove malice to prosecute police officers who are involved in fatal shootings.

“We are not trying to make a witch hunt after cops, or easier to prosecute, we are trying to make it (prosecution) possible,” Johnson said.

“This is not against anyone, this is not against law enforcement,” Andre Taylor said.

Taylor has been clamoring for change ever since his brother Che Taylor was killed by two Seattle police officers. An inquest determined the officers’ deadly force was justified. But Taylor still disagrees and I-940 is one way he’s continuing the conversation.

“I think he would be pleased, not just for himself but for Charleena (Lyles) and Tommy Le -- the list goes on,” Taylor said, referring to people fatally shot by law enforcement officers in the area.

Supporters are hoping the signatures will pressure the Legislature to change the law before I-940 makes it on the ballot for November 2018. A bill last year in the Legislature tried to address the issue but it didn’t get far.

State Rep. Morgan Irwin, R-Enumclaw, says he is very concerned with the language of I-940.

Irwin is a Seattle police officer but made it clear he is not speaking on behalf of the department but only as a lawmaker.

“It’s not about police training, it’s about making it easier to put cops in jail and that is it,” Irwin said.

He says even with the malice protection in place, police officers across the state are afraid to do their jobs.

“You are talking about an incredibly high-stress, high-tension, high-stakes situation, officers are already questioning themselves on how they do their jobs and they are talking about removing the only protection we have,” Irwin said.

“We want less people to be shot, we want less officers to go through that situation thinking they had to shoot and be traumatized with the rest of their lives,” Johnson said.

Johnson says Washington is the only state in the country that has a malice protection for police officers.

The group needs about 260,000 valid signatures to get the issue on the ballot. They plan to turn in about 35 boxes with signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office on December 28.