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.

However, Senator Manka Dhingra (D) who chairs the Law and Justice committee, says she doesn't plan to let it be heard which would kill the bill.

"I do not have the vehicle pursuit bill scheduled in the Senate, and I'll see what the House feels like sending over to me. I think that language is problematic because it takes us backwards to a time when we had innocent people dying, because they just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. What I think I would be open to is having a CJTC (Criminal Justice Training Center) actually study that, study it from a perspective of what best practices are across the country," she said.

Law enforcement leaders say the data is already clear. Violent crime and car thefts have skyrocketed. House Bill 1363 introduced on Jan. 17 joins House Bill 1053 in allowing officers to pursue suspects if they believe they have reasonable suspicion they committed a crime.

It would change back the law that went effect in 2021 that prohibits officers from pursuing car theft suspects unless they have established probable cause that they committed a crime. If police witness a suspect commit a violent crime and then that suspect speeds away, they can pursue if the person is deemed dangerous enough.

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However, simply seeing someone driving a stolen car does not meet the standard for using force to stop them. The suspect can simply speed away.

Law Enforcement leaders say criminals are emboldened. In 2022, 45,033 trucks and cars were reported stolen in Washington state which is a huge increase over previous years.

Car theft in Pierce and King counties is up almost 100% with 80 cars or trucks still being stolen every day.

"Law Enforcement will be the first to recognize that to car chase pursuits can be dangerous. Recent policies restricting pursuits changes made driving a car a get out of jail free card and creates conditions that enable criminals, jeopardize public safety and reduces the rule of law in Washington. Prohibitions on vehicle pursuits need to be remedied. When not arresting the suspect outweighs the risk of a pursuit, officers need the option to chase criminals to ensure public safety. We can’t allow offenders the advantage over victims to just drive away," said Kirkland PD Chief Cherie Harris.

However, police reform groups like the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability believe limits on vehicular pursuits protect officers and civilians.

Washington Representative Roger Goodman believes there's been some success since the vehicle pursuit law was enacted in 2021.

"In the last 15 months, there's been an 80% reduction of deaths on the roadways because of vehicle pursuits; very often, innocent bystanders have been killed," said Goodman.

"It's going to be a difficult conversation, but there's a balance here. It's going to require getting everyone around the table; not just police, but community groups and others who are concerned about police pursuits," said Goodman.