In 2021, the Legislature enacted House Bill 1054, which raised the bar for police pursuits from reasonable suspicion to probable cause that an individual has committed certain crimes before initiating a pursuit. Since then, criminals have enjoyed a free ride as officers can only watch as they drive away. Several bills in this 2022/2023 session have tried to remedy the issue.
Nearly two years since HB 1054 took effect, there has been a noticeable increase in car thefts and drivers unwilling to pull over for law enforcement.
Earlier this month, a Washington State Patrol trooper observed a man driving at a breakneck speed of 111 mph on Interstate 90 in Eastern Washington. However, because of the prohibition on vehicular pursuits, the trooper could not chase the 20-year-old suspect as he fled the scene.
Per the law, mere speeding is an insufficient basis to pursue a suspect. At the time, there was no reasonable suspicion that the man was allegedly driving under the influence. Approximately an hour later, he purportedly collided with another vehicle, resulting in the tragic deaths of an 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy.
At the start of last week, the House majority party declined to allow a comprehensive debate and floor vote on the bipartisan legislation addressing police vehicular pursuits. Substitute House Bill 1363 proposes that officers be allowed to pursue if there is “reasonable suspicion” that an individual in the vehicle has committed a violent crime, sex offense, domestic violence, vehicular assault, an escape, or driving under the influence.
Republican efforts to move the bill were fruitless.
In the other legislative body, Senator Manka Dhingra, a Democrat from Redmond and the Senate Law & Justice Committee chair, had declined to consider any proposed amendments to the existing police pursuit regulations.
Only a few hours remained last Wednesday as the final deadline for bills to be approved by their originating chamber approached. At the same time, advocates for police vehicular pursuit reform legislation gathered at the Capitol Campus to rally support within the House of Representatives.
Among those present at the event was Amber Goldade, the grieving mother of a 12-year-old girl who died in a hit-and-run accident in Midland in January 2022. The perpetrator was a man who had stolen a flatbed pickup truck.
“If the police were able to pursue him, he could have been caught and put back in jail, preventing him from harming innocent, law-abiding citizens and not kill my daughter,” an emotional Goldade said.
A surprising turn of events later on Wednesday resulted in legislation passing the Senate giving police in Washington state more discretion in engaging in vehicular pursuits. The ultimate fate of the bill remains to be determined.
Engrossed Senate Bill 5352, introduced by Senator John Lovick (D), has bipartisan support and passed on a 26-23 vote. The proposed legislation would authorize law enforcement officers to initiate a pursuit if they reasonably suspect that an individual in the fleeing vehicle has committed or is currently committing a violent crime, sex offense, vehicular assault, domestic violence, an escape, or driving under the influence.
The bill includes amendments that mandate additional training and require law enforcement officers to communicate more effectively with local authorities during chases to safeguard bystanders.
The approval of ESB 5352 in the Senate surprised many, as Senator Manka Dhingra, who heads the Senate Law & Justice Committee, had previously stated that she would not consider the bill in her committee. Nonetheless, the lawmaker introduced the revised bill, and it subsequently passed.
Gov. Jay Inslee indicated he’s open to a police pursuit reform bill coming across his desk for a signature.
“I’m very happy that the Senate is advancing the cause of some reform of our police pursuit policies,” Inslee said at a press conference last Thursday. “I hope the House will consider those proposals the Senate has made. I think that some changes on adjusting that needle of where we set it on police pursuits, realizing there’s always some danger in pursuits, but there’s a danger of further criminal conduct as well. I think that needle needs to change, and I hope the House will consider the Senate proposal.”
WR is working for property crimes to be added back into the bill as a reason for pursuit.