OLYMPIA—Two months ago, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin was one of the central figures involved in the team’s decision to take part in a “demonstration of unity” during the National Anthem at Seattle’s season opener. After the game, Baldwin and other teammates talked about the importance of follow through; of using their platform as professional athletes to help “build a bridge” between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
On Monday, Baldwin’s follow through took him to the Washington State Capitol where he spoke during a hearing of the Washington State Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing Joint Legislative Task Force. Baldwin was one of 13 people to address the task force, introducing himself not as a member of the Seahawks, but as “just a concerned citizen” who, like the people who spoke before him, wanted to address a state law that prevents law enforcement officers from being charged with a crime in uses of deadly force unless it can be proven that they acted with “malice” and without “good faith.” The statute, which went into effect in 1986, is the only one of its kind in the country.
The son of a police officer who served 35 years on the force in Pensacola, Florida, Baldwin understands the complexities of this issue more than most, and in recent months he put a lot of time and energy into research and meetings with various members of local government and law enforcement.
“Before he retired, my father spent 35 years as a law enforcement officer in our hometown of Pensacola, Florida,” Baldwin told the task force. “For 35 years, he held himself to an honorable standard, not just by his wife and not just by his kids, but he held himself to an incredibly high standard because of what it meant when he put on his police uniform and went out in our community. When he went out in the community, he knew that members of the community looked at him as a leader and a protector. He knew that when people were running away from danger and fear, he had to run to it with courage. So today we’re discussing, among other things, the role of ‘malice’ and ‘good faith’ as it pertains to the use of deadly force by law enforcement.
“… The question for many on this panel is whether or not to take out malice and how to redefine what good faith means. I believe the better question is, what is going to make our communities safer? Law enforcement agencies want to serve their communities, they want to serve them with the best trained officers, they want to serve them with the most useful resources to make their communities safer. And the communities want the same thing. And if this is truly what is desired by both sides, then removing ‘malice’ from the statute and at least further defining what ‘good faith’ means as an objective standard is not only the logical thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”
On Monday afternoon, the task force agreed with Baldwin and others who spoke, voting 14-10 to recommend removing reference to “malice” and “good faith” from the law.
Baldwin calling for this change, as well as for better training of officers, is not an anti-police stance; it’s the farthest thing from that. Instead, Baldwin sees this as an opportunity to build "a bridge between communities and law enforcement that will begin to repair and heal a much-needed and necessary relationship.”
“It sends a very clear message to the community that law enforcement agencies are understanding the gravity of the decisions that they make… As Representative Dave Hayes said in an article in July, ‘Merely changing the statute won’t fix the problem alone. This is a journey to find solutions to the issues regarding law enforcement and the communities they serve.’ My father served his community with pride and with a sense of responsibility. He did so because he knew that the decisions he made had a great and lasting impact on the community he served. As a young man impacted by those decisions, I’m asking with hope that this committee recommend the following: A. the removal of ‘malice’ from the statute. B. At the very least, to further define what ‘good faith’ means as an objective standard, and C. Allocating funds specifically designated to training officers in the state of Washington so that the state of Washington can continue to be seen as a leader in that regard.”
Sitting in Governor Jay Inslee’s office after talking with the task force, Baldwin and Inslee continued the dialogue, with Baldwin pointing out that changing this law would be “an olive branch to communities.” The two also discussed the importance of police being guardians in communities rather than warriors. Baldwin is the first to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers, but as he told Inslee, “as a concerned citizen, all I can do is educate myself.” And the willingness of Baldwin to educate himself and put so much time and effort into an important topic is a point of pride for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who embraces the idea of his players focusing on bettering themselves as humans and not just as football players.
“I couldn’t be more proud what he’s doing,” Carroll said. “He continues to carry the torch for building a bridge between community and law enforcement. He’s doing some marvelous stuff. I’ve got feedback from people that he’s visited with a number of times now, and he continues to be really impressive and on task. I think he’s going to be a factor. I think he’s going to be a legitimate factor to help bring about change. It’s wonderful to see him making the time and applying himself so well. He has such a unique background with his father being in law enforcement and all of that. His background and just handling this kind of an effort is really showing up.”
Baldwin hopes his voice can make a difference in Olympia, but more than just change laws, he wants continued dialogue to create empathy between different cultures, something he calls “the greatest need right now.” Baldwin isn’t sure what will come next for him in this bridge-building role, but he does know his work didn’t end with Monday’s trip to Olympia.
“I don’t think it ever will end,” he said. “Just changing the statute isn’t going to fix the problem alone. This is a journey between the community and law enforcement to find solutions, to repair the relationship and to continue to grow and be the progressive state that we claim to be.
“I’m not done. So whatever my part is in terms of just being a concerned citizen and trying to impact change as a citizen, I will continue to do that.”
Doug Baldwin visited Olympia to speak at a hearing of the Washington State Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing Joint Legislative Task Force and meet with Governor Jay Inslee.