Legislators source questionable data for changing police pursuit laws

Feb 3, 2023, 3:50 PM | Updated: Feb 5, 2023, 8:07 am
police pursuit...
(James P. McCoy/The Buffalo News via AP)

(James P. McCoy/The Buffalo News via AP)

Statistics used by legislators to consider changing police pursuit laws may be in question.

State Senator Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) used a report by retired University of Washington statistics professor Martina Morris as the basis of a refusal to hear Senate Bill 5352. The bill would have reinstated the ability of law enforcement to use the ‘reasonable suspicion’ standard to initiate a police pursuit.

It now appears that Morris has modified her original report and reduced the number of innocent bystanders killed during police pursuits. Dhingra used the data as a source for the number of innocent lives lost in police pursuits statewide before and after the reform began.

The main change was the removal of the reasonable suspicion standard law enforcement wants restored.

The Morris report on The Center Square went missing on the website that had been hosting it. The Center Square reports on local and state government from a conservative perspective.

KIRO Newsradio found the report had been republished by Friday, with an updated date of Feb. 2.

But there are changes. Key among them is the reduction of innocent bystanders killed 18 months prior to July 25, 2021, the effective date of the pursuit changes.

We compared the Feb. 2 report to an archived version found on archive.org with a date of Jan. 19.

The January report states 11 people were killed prior to July 25, 2021.  But the new February reports claimed it was nine people killed during that time period.

The stat should not have changed since it dealt with the same time period.

The number of bystanders killed in the January report was five, but in the February report, it was merely two. The number of passengers killed changed from three to four.  The number of suspects killed was three in both reports.

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Both reports said no suspects or passengers have died, but since July 25, 2021, three bystanders were killed.

Dhingra made the point that saving innocent lives was the reason why the pursuit law was changed.

In the January report, Dhingra said the number of lives lost went down 73%.

The “updated” February report now says 67%

But more importantly, the number of bystanders killed in the last 18 months is three. In the 18 months prior to the change in the law, it was two.

Morris testified Tuesday against HB 1363, a House version of the Senate bill Dhingra refused to give a hearing in the Senate committee she chairs.

“Rolling back pursuit protections will not make us safer,” Morris said.

She disagrees with testifiers that said there’d been a rise in crime since the pursuit reform started.

“The evidence that the pursuit law is the reason for these things are happening is simply not there,” she said.

Seattle University Criminal Justice professor Matthew Hickman reviewed Morris’s January report and told KIRO Newsradio state lawmakers should not use the report in their decision-making.

“Make your decision about this law on other factors do not consider these data as the deciding factor,” Hickman said.

Both the House and Senate are considering bills to ask the Criminal Justice Training Commission to study and develop a police pursuit policy. The House version has a due date at the end of 2022. The Senate’s version, which Dhingra co-sponsored, has a due date of October 31, 2024.

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Legislators source questionable data for changing police pursuit laws