Gregoire signs compensation package in wake of fatal police shootings
Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday approved a new law that boosts state benefits for survivors of slain police officers.
The Associated Press
LAKEWOOD, Pierce County — With emotional thanks for their sacrifice, Gov. Chris Gregoire on Wednesday approved a new law that boosts state benefits for the survivors of slain police officers.
It's one of several bills approved recently by the state Legislature in response to the shooting deaths of a half-dozen Western Washington law-enforcement officers at the end of 2009.
Gregoire signed the package of bills into law at the Lakewood Police Department, which lost four officers in November in a brazen early-morning shooting at a nearby coffee shop.
With relatives and friends of the slain officers looking on, Gregoire praised the work of legislators and law- enforcement leaders who developed the new laws. Her voice trembling, Gregoire also thanked the surviving families for their courage.
"I know today is a bittersweet day. But out of this terrible tragedy, something positive — this positive — has come," Gregoire said. "You have left a legacy to law enforcement throughout our state."
The benefits bill raises a lump-sum payment for survivors of police and firefighters killed on duty from $150,000 to $214,000, and adjusts it for inflation in the future.
The bill also removes a requirement that an officer or firefighter have 10 years of service before survivors can draw an annual retirement benefit and changes the minimum payment to 10 percent of the average salary.
In addition, if a police officer or firefighter dies or becomes totally disabled on duty, the children and spouses will be guaranteed a free college education in the state. Under previous law, colleges were given the option of waiving tuition and fees.
Another bill signed by the Democratic governor toughens the penalties for helping a criminal suspect evade capture. Authorities said the shooter in the Lakewood case, Maurice Clemmons, was helped by friends and family as he eluded police during a massive manhunt that lasted several days.
Clemmons was finally shot to death by a lone Seattle officer in an early-morning confrontation.
Law-enforcement officials worked with the governor's office to recommend action by the Legislature in response to the Nov. 29 Lakewood shootings.
Killed in that attack were Sgt. Mark Renninger and Officers Ronald Owens, Tina Griswold and Greg Richards. They were among six officers killed over just two months in Pierce and King counties in late 2009.
The rash of shootings began in October, when Seattle Officer Timothy Brenton was killed as he sat in his patrol car Halloween night. Christopher Monfort has been charged with aggravated first-degree murder in Brenton's death.
In December, Pierce County Deputy Kent Mundell of Puyallup was shot to death while responding to a domestic-disturbance call.
Another bill approved by Gregoire ends the practice of "booking bail" in which suspects could post bail without having to see a judge. Gregoire also approved a measure that allows officials to revoke the parole or probation of offenders from other states but who are in Washington. Clemmons was released from an Arkansas prison after a previous sentence was shortened before he moved to Washington.
This fall, Washington state voters will weigh a state constitutional amendment that would give judges more power in denying bail. That measure also is a response to the Lakewood shootings — Clemmons had been released on bail less than a week before the attack.
State officials also are studying the bail system in a special work group set up to consider any shortcomings.