Sen. Lovick: Pursuit law looks to give police ‘the tools to do their job’

Apr 17, 2023, 12:25 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)

One of the most contentious issues in the current legislative cycle is a law that looks to change when police are allowed to engage in a vehicle chase with a suspect. New police pursuit legislation changing this limitation has passed the House and Senate in different forms, but it seems like it’s a compromise not everyone is happy with.

The original policing reform law, RCW 10.116.060, was passed in 2021 in response to the 2020 police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The current legislation looks to amend that law and change the wording of the existing law to allow pursuits if an officer has “reasonable suspicion” rather than “probable cause.”

The bill looks to make it easier for officers to engage in pursuits while still balancing the goal of increasing public safety by limiting unnecessary pursuits — which can become dangerous for police or civilians.

Police pursuit bill passes House despite some reluctance

“It’s kind of a fine line, and the way I look at it is, at what point are we going to say, you could pursue a stolen car, but do we really want to endanger a person’s life? Put people in danger? Not only the officer but the public in danger over a stolen car?” Sen. John Lovick, a Democrat representing the 44th district, said on The Gee and Urula Show. “I’m just not there yet. But I’m not saying maybe next year, we can’t come back and take a closer look at that.”

Lovick was a state trooper for 31 years and was named Trooper of the Year in 1992. In addition, he served a total of 13 years in the United States Coast Guard, including time patrolling the waters off Alaska.

So what about pursuing a stolen car that someone needs to get to work and can’t afford to get a new one, Gee asked.

“What I always tell people is that everything that we talk about looks great in isolation,” Lovick answered. “I want that thief stopped also, as a state trooper. I would probably want to pursue that person. But I have to look at the total picture. We just didn’t have the support on both sides of the aisle, at least on my side of the aisle to pursue a stolen vehicle. Those are just the facts.”

Reasonable suspicion, as applied in Washington search and seizure laws, is defined 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 demands clear and objective circumstances or evidence that suggest criminal activity.

The bill also stated officers could chase a suspect as long as the suspect poses a serious risk of harm to others.

Bill for fewer restrictions on police pursuits passes in WA Senate

The issue becomes even more contentious as Washington is ranked second in vehicle theft rate, according to data obtained by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. At a rate of about 15 out of every 1,000 vehicles registered being stolen, vehicle theft in Washington has seen an increase of 13% from last year.

“Most people know, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to give the officers the tools to do their job. And that’s what I think we accomplished.” Lovick said. “The idea is to try and avoid pursuits altogether, and then to keep cars from being stolen.”

The House version now heads back to the Senate to see if they agree on the legislative changes.

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