MYNORTHWEST POLITICS

Lawmakers grant police more leeway in pursuing criminals

Mar 4, 2024, 4:22 PM | Updated: 5:10 pm

police lights...

Police lights. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

In a significant shift in law enforcement policy, Washington state lawmakers took decisive action on Monday, passing an initiative that erases restrictions on police pursuit.

Initiative 2113, sponsored by State Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), and backed by Let’s Go Washington with support from investor Brian Heywood, aimed to grant police greater leeway in pursuing suspected criminals.

Passage marks a significant victory for Republicans and law enforcement who have said current pursuit law has been ineffective.

Earlier in the day, the Senate passed the initiative 36-13 with 13 Democrats joining all 20 Republican senators in approval.

Later in the afternoon, the House passed the initiative 77-20, with all negative votes coming from Democrats.

The initiative had garnered a great deal of attention, spurred by concerns that if the Legislature didn’t act, voters might take matters into their own hands come November.

Under Initiative 2113, the law would revert to previous regulations.

“This bill will broaden significantly the ability for police to pursue a vehicle and we will be watching its effectiveness,” Representative Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland).

Goodman is the House committee chair and proponent of the current pursuit law that limits when police can pursue a suspect.

Police said current laws handcuffed their ability to arrest criminals

This move comes after law enforcement groups argued that existing constraints had emboldened criminals and contributed to a surge in crime across the state.

Initiative 2113 emerged as a contentious response to law enforcement practices and public safety concerns within the state.

It all began with the passage of a law in 2021, regarding the casualties resulting from high-speed police pursuits.

This initial legislation said pursuits could only be initiated if there was “probable cause” to believe that a person had committed a violent or specific offense, coupled with a direct threat to public safety.

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However, as time progressed, criticisms surfaced, claiming that this law compromised overall safety by limiting police action.

In response to this criticism, the Legislature enacted a modification in 2023. This amendment lowered the threshold for initiating pursuits to a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity.

It broadened the range of offenses that could warrant a pursuit and required that the person being pursued posed “a serious risk of harm.”

The modification created even more criticism by law enforcement officers.

Enter Initiative 2113

It allows police pursuits based on a “reasonable suspicion” of law violation without specifying the type of offenses.

The initiative aims to lower the threshold for pursuit even further.

It broadens the criteria for pursuit, allowing it if the individual poses a mere “threat to the safety of others,”

The passage of this initiative signals a significant shift in law enforcement policy, with proponents arguing it will enhance public safety by allowing officers to more effectively pursue and apprehend suspects.

However, critics, including those advocating for greater police accountability, warn that such measures could lead to increased risk for innocent bystanders.

The legislative process included heated debates, with supporters and opponents clashing over the potential implications of Initiative 2113.

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Democratic legislators raised concerns about the broad scope of the initiative and its potential to endanger public safety, while backers emphasized the need to empower law enforcement agencies to tackle rising crime rates.

With Initiative 2113 now approved by both chambers and does not need the Governor’s approval to become law.

The initiative will take effect on June 7, 90 days after Monday’s vote.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

 

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Lawmakers grant police more leeway in pursuing criminals