Washington state Legislature considers rolling back strict pursuit laws

Feb 16, 2023, 5:08 AM | Updated: 3:50 pm
legislature pursuit laws...
Washington State Capitol Building (KIRO 7)
(KIRO 7)

The Washington state Legislature is moving forward with a bill that is looking to scale back on strict police pursuit laws, loosening restrictions on when police are able to engage in vehicular pursuits with suspects.

House Bill 1363 is in executive session Thursday in the House Committee on Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry. The bill was voted through the committee, with its next steps being a debate and vote on the full house floor.

Legislators source questionable data for changing police pursuit laws

The bill was revised in committee, and a vote was held approving changes to the legislation.

With new amendments to the legislation, the bill would make it so that the police have the authority to pursue a suspect if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a crime has been committed. This is especially prevalent in cases involving violent offenses, sex offenses, vehicular assault, an escape, domestic violence assaults, and DUI.

Reasonable suspicion, as applied in Washington search and seizure laws, defines as “present when the officer has an objective belief, based on specific and articulable facts.”

The previous version of the bill required ‘probable cause’ to engage in a pursuit, which needs clear and objective circumstances or evidence that suggest criminal activity.

The bill also says that officers could chase a suspect as long as the suspect poses a serious risk of harm to others. However, lawmakers said safety issues surrounding pursuits are complex.

Rep. Mary Fosse (D-Everett) expressed concern that rolling back restrictions on pursuit laws could prevent the danger posed by high-speed police chases.

“We all want our communities to be safer,” Fosse said. “In fact, we know police pursuits in themselves don’t actually make our communities safer and they’ve had impacts in my own community with bystanders.”

Republicans speaking in favor of the legislation instead argued the restrictions on police are posing a bigger danger to the public because they don’t allow police to do their jobs.

“We have to have laws that everybody follows,” said Graham. “Otherwise, we get what we have right now and I have serious concerns that if we don’t do something to start supporting our police — we’re already last in the nation in 911.”

The legislation does contain a provision that would require officers engaging in pursuit to have emergency vehicle operator training and be certified in at least one pursuit intervention option, such as spike strips.

Matt Markovich contributed to this report

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Washington state Legislature considers rolling back strict pursuit laws