Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole recently held a town-hall style question and answer meeting about current and future reform in the police department. O'Toole has encouraged all officers of Seattle Police to "get on board" with the reforms or "consider other options." This is in response to recent efforts at reforming Seattle's policing tactics, as well as addressing the lawsuit filed by over one hundred Seattle police officers back in 2014 to resist the reforms on their use of force. The news report of the Q&A session alleges that of the 123 officers who filed the lawsuit, 111 of them are still on the police force. These 111 are likely going to try to resist the efforts to make reforms every step of the way. It is for this reason that O'Toole issued her ultimatum, essentially arguing that the reforms are already underway and slowing things down will not be tolerated.
O'Toole handled questions regarding police actions against homeless people, overall police accountability, and also the law that protects law enforcement officers from facing any real consequences for acting with deadly force. In a prior blog post, we discussed why it is so difficult for cops to face prosecution for their wrongful or negligent uses of force. The short answer is that the statute that gives police power contains language stating that in order for a cop to face prosecution for using deadly force, there must be substantial proof to show that the officer had acted "with malice" when he or she pulled the trigger.
The reporter from the news report asked if the language containing "with malice" should be removed from the law. O'Toole answered that any bill that comes forward to do so must fall under scrutiny, and that she understands that Washington State has a much higher standard to prosecute officers. O'Toole also suggested that victims of police violence consider filing federal civil rights cases to try to obtain compensation for any potential wrongdoing. While many victims or victim's families will go through this route, it often feels like a cheap way of serving justice. Victims of deadly force police violence watch cops walk step right over criminal charges, and sometimes have to witness the killer cops on television or in other media, while a normal person would face jail time and a lengthy criminal process for the same actions.
It just so happens that a bill proposing to amend the "with malice" language in the statute has recently been struck down. What happened instead was a creation of a special task force to continue to make recommendations that could possibly amend the bill, and another bill dedicated to the collection and compilation of more data on police killings. While these are certainly steps forward to creating true police accountability, there is not quite enough being done, especially when the public wants, and maybe even needs, these reforms now.