One Washington lawmaker has the key to block discussions on police pursuits, and she is wielding that power

The issue of police pursuits in Washington State have been front and center ever since the law changed in 2021 under House Bill 1054.

The new legislation restricted officers from chasing most suspects. Now, they need probable cause instead of reasonable suspicion that someone committed a crime in order to pursue them. 

Since then, the law enforcement community and some mayors across Washington State have been on a full campaign to reverse the law. They say the changes have emboldened criminals, especially when it comes to those stealing cars.

Last year, more than 45,000 cars were stolen statewide, a huge increase from previous years. Police say it's directly related to the restrictions on police pursuits. Under the new law, police say even seeing someone driving a stolen car is not enough to go after that person.

This year, they were hoping lawmakers would come back to the table to discuss and tweak the law to a more balanced version in their eyes. 

But one person, Democratic Senator Manka Dhingra, holds the power on whether it can even come up as a discussion. However, as the chair of the Law and Justice Committee, she says she has no plans on bringing the bipartisan measure up for debate.

Instead, she deflected to another bill that aims to create a diverse working group. Senate Bill 5533 wants a working group to talk about when police pursuits are appropriate or not.   

Bill introduced to amend Washington's police pursuit laws unlikely to pass

Washington lawmakers introduced another bill with bipartisan support that would allow police officers to pursue criminals, but the bill is not scheduled to be heard in the Senate.

Senate Bill 5533 does not address the crux of the issue: reasonable suspicion versus probable cause, a vital part that police are asking for.

On Monday, Dhingra continued to bring up innocent lives taken due to police pursuits during her interview with FOX 13 on Monday.

She is blocking discussions on the bills, mainly relying on a UW study that says the changes to the law are saving lives.

The study was done by retired UW Professor Martina Morris.

https://rpubs.com/moxbox/wa_pursuits

The study claims 11 lives were lost before the 2021 changes went into effect compared to 3 deaths after the changes went into effect.

But now that study is under fire with a lawmaker in Dhingra's own party saying it is flawed and debunked.

Democratic Representative Alicia Rule says she commissioned Dr. Matthew Hickman at Seattle University to do a independent analysis.

He is the Chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology and Forensics.

Dr. Hickman gave a blunt and scathing analysis of the study. 

"Professor Morris knows all this, as her scholarly record reflects a very clear understanding of methodology and statistics with some published work deserving of acclaim. The question is why Professor Morris is not applying the same level of rigorous analysis that she has in her prior academic career to the question of police pursuit fatalities. One could reasonably conclude that Professor Morris is not fulfilling the role of an objective scholar but is instead playing the role of advocate. One could also reasonably question whether it is ethical to produce and publicly display this potentially misleading analysis which may form the basis of legislative decision-making."

Rule is asking Senator Dhingra and other colleagues to throw out the study and to only base their decision moving forward on reliable data.

"The bipartisan bill has more than 50 sponsors in the House and Senate and deserves to be considered fully by both houses.  This is an important measure to fix the 2021 law on police pursuits and ensure victims of crime know law enforcement will have the ability to pursue fleeing suspects.  Decisions like this should be based on good reliable data and not one’s personal political stance." Rep. Rule said.

FOX 13 reached out to Dhingra's office again on Tuesday and she showed no signs that she would back away from the UW study.

Meanwhile Morris also responded on Tuesday saying that since the state does not collect data she relied on available news reports.

But she still defends her work.

"In summary, no one is disputing that fewer people have been killed since the legislature enacted the pursuit reform law. The evidence we have so far therefore suggests it is working. We strongly agree that better data are needed. That is why we are calling on the legislature to establish a statewide data collection program on pursuits." Morris said. 

Officers say they still need the discretion to go after criminals when necessary. With little accountability, officers say many who get away will go on to victimize countless other people in all different types of crime. 

The bottom line: law enforcement want time in this year’s legislature to talk and tweak the law on police pursuits.