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Leslie Cushman advocates to reform deadly force laws

Leslie Cushman, a member of the PNC Justice Witness Ministries Committee, is involved in advocacy with the Olympia Coalition for the Reform of Deadly Force Laws.

This year they are working on use of deadly force legislation before the 2017 State Legislature.

Leslie Cushman

Leslie Cushman - photo courtesy of Leslie Cushman

There are three bills introduced so far, two in the Senate and one in the House.

“We hope to see more bills introduced soon,” she said.

The Olympia Coalition for the Reform of Deadly Force Laws supports all three bills and several pending ones.

Leslie, who attends United Churches of Olympia, described principles the group is promoting.

“We are seeking a solution that 1) removes the de facto immunity from criminal liability for unlawful uses of deadly force by law enforcement, 2) provides an objective standard of review for law enforcement use of deadly force, and 3) protects honest mistakes of law enforcement.

The next crucial step is to have the bills scheduled for hearings.  

Leslie listed bills the Olympia Coalition for the Reform of Deadly Force supports:

• SB 5000 by Senators McCoy, Hunt and Chase with information at

• HB 1000 by Representatives Doglio, Appleton, Dolan, Frame, Peterson, Gregerson, Santos, Fey, Sawyer and Cody:

• SB 5073 by Senators Frockt, McCoy, Pederssen, Hasegawa, Darnielle, Chase, Hunt and Wellman:

“We will support any bill that includes Recommendation B2 from the Joint Legislative Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing, unless of course a particular piece of legislation contains a ‘poison pill,’” she said.  

Leslie gave an example of specific language that they are supporting, which is in an amendment to RCW 9A.16.040:

“A public officer or peace officer shall not be held criminally liable for using deadly force (without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable pursuant to this section) if a reasonable officer would have believed that the use of deadly force was necessary in light of all the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time.”

Leslie said this language removes the de facto immunity from criminal liability for unlawful use of deadly force, and replaces it with a “reasonable officer” standard.  The reasonable officer standard is an objective standard. 

“The key is that this will protect honest mistakes of law enforcement,” she said.

For churches interested in this issue and advocacy work, she suggests contacting Senator Mike Padden, chair of the Law and Justice Committee, to ask him to schedule SB 5073 and SB 5000 for a hearing.  

Leslie also suggests contacting Representative Roger Goodman, chair of the Public Safety Committee, to ask him to schedule a hearing for the Ryu companion to SB 5073 and for HB 1000. 

“This issue is about liberty, dignity and the inherent value and worth of each person,” Leslie said. “At its heart, it is about community and connectedness.

“Policing is an interesting profession.  The notion of law and order is interesting as well,” she said, noting that many say, “Police have hard jobs,” and police do have hard jobs.

“Part of why police jobs are hard is because of a long history of people in power using police as tools to keep other people in place. Perhaps we the people have delegated too much to the police,” she said.

Leslie pointed out that police accountability is a complicated topic, and police use of force is just one component.

Related to police use of force, there are “rules” that establish parameters for when police can lawfully kill a member of the public, but the laws do not adequately protect people from unlawful use of force, she said.

Leslie listed three problems:

• The rules are not applied fairly.

• Implicit and explicit biases account for much of the unfairness.

• The law is vague and allows for use of deadly force when it could be avoided.  This results in marginalized people being at greater risk of death or injury from police action than people who are not marginalized.

“The government should have a good reason to use deadly force against a person.  It should be the last resort,” Leslie said.

In Washington State today, when an officer uses excessive force, the law—rules—provide de facto immunity for police so that they avoid criminal liability, she said.

“Washington state is unique among the 50 states in that we have this immunity provision in statute.  No other state does,” she said.

Community advocates have been working at the legislature for more than a year now, asking that the immunity be removed from statute. 

“Change is hard for most things, and change is hard in government institutions, particularly policing,” she said.  “Police are resistant to collaborating on how the profession operates.”

So there are difficult conversations going on between police and community advocates.  The Faith Action Network is also working on the issue.

Leslie co-founded the Olympia Coalition for the Reform of Deadly Force Laws with Kathy Baros Friedt, a Latina woman who has been working for human rights for years.  Kathy is the chair of the State Human Rights Commission, is involved with the Thurston County Dispute Resolution Center, is a member of the Hispanic Roundtable, and is a founder of Unity in the Community.

For information, call my phone 360-280-0087 or email


Copyright © February 2017 Pacific Northwest Conference United Church of Christ News


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