MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Bill for fewer restrictions on police pursuits passes in WA Senate

Mar 8, 2023, 4:46 PM | Updated: Mar 9, 2023, 5:08 pm

police pursuit...

Around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Washington state House passed an amended version of the state Senate's police pursuit bill. (Photo By Ryan McFadden/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

(Photo By Ryan McFadden/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images)

A police pursuit bill loosening restrictions for chasing criminals narrowly passed in the Washington State Senate before the 5 p.m. deadline on a 26-23 vote despite its companion bill, House Bill 1363, failing to advance beyond the House floor.

“There was a similar bill proposed (SB 5352) and it never got a hearing because Chairperson Manka Dhingra, the Senator from Redmond, didn’t like it and didn’t get a hearing. So essentially, we thought it was dead,” KIRO Newsradio’s Matt Markovich said. “But guess what? It came back to life an hour ago, total surprise. The Democrats, Andy Billig, the Majority Leader in the Senate, decided to hold a hearing on the full Senate floor. It came literally out of the grave.”

Legislators source questionable data for changing police pursuit laws

The bill will help restore the ability for police officers to commit a vehicle pursuit — as long as it’s someone accused of a violent or sex crime, vehicular assault, escape, DUI, or domestic violence.

With new amendments to the legislation, the bill would give police the authority to pursue a suspect if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a violent crime has been committed. 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.”

Other amendments attached to the bill focused on extra training to protect bystanders.

Despite the bill passing at the 11th hour, Dhingra maintained her stance against the legislation, citing more than 11,000 people have been killed by police pursuits since 1979.

“If I may quote from a headline from the Washington Post, police chases killed more people each year than floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and lightning combined,” Dhingra said during the legislative debate.

“I’m very sympathetic to the representative. I understand that she’s trying to save lives. I understand that people die in police pursuits. I understand that it’s very sad,” said Jack Stine, fill-in host for KIRO Newsradio. “I think it might behoove her to look at the opposite side of the coin and look at the increases in crime, which occur when we do not allow police to do their jobs. If the inverse of that is that crime increases and people die as a result of crime, is it really a good trade-off? At this point in time, I have to say no, right?”

The law restricting pursuits, which went into effect July 2021, barred police from initiating vehicle chases over low-level crimes like theft. Police could only pursue suspects in violent crimes if they had probable cause to do so, a much stricter requirement than “reasonable suspicion.”

Police officers and representatives have publicly spoken out against the restriction of police pursuits, citing it has marred their ability to be law enforcement officers. Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, told KIRO Newsradio car thefts shot up by 50% following the law.

Rantz: WA Democrats pretend vehicular pursuit ban isn’t connected to crime surge

“From around 2,000 to 2,500 stolen vehicles per month, we’re now well over 3,000 and 3,500,” Strachan said.

“And all we can do is have our legislators debate the issue,” said KIRO Nights host Spike O’Neill filling in on KIRO Newsradio. “And that’s how it’s supposed to work. I understand the majority rules, and the Democrats have control in the Legislature, and they get to make the rules. But clearly the public wants this debate to be had, whether the votes are there or not. Give both sides. Like you said, look at the other side of the coin.”

The bill now travels to the House for a Justice Committee vote, as it needs to pass here once more with the new amendments the Senate attached.

The bill’s deadline is April 4.

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