This week Washington Retail testified in support of several bills designed to allow law enforcement to once again pursue suspected criminals.
Three years ago, when the legislature passed several police reform bills, it severely restricted the ability of law enforcement to pursue suspects. Today many law enforcement agencies feel powerless once a suspect leaves a crime scene in a car. Under current law, for example, if a suspected retail thief leaves a store with stolen product on their person, once they get into their getaway vehicle, the police are not allowed to pursue them.
Considering that Washington State does not have a “concealment” of product law, which is when someone hides goods on their person or in a bag, backpack, or other with the intent to steal, it creates somewhat of a predicament for law enforcement and retail loss prevention staff. Since the suspect cannot be apprehended in a store while concealing product, the only opportunity to catch the suspect is in the distance between the store’s exit door and their car. This narrow window of time creates a dangerous scenario and could lead to an employee, customer, law enforcement, or even the crook getting hurt or killed. This puts public safety at risk.
Allowing police to safely pursue suspects, with specific guidelines and regulations to ensure safety, will protect innocent bystanders, employees, and criminals themselves from potential harm.
WR wants to reemphasize that enacting meaningful pursuit legislation is not the only solution to solving public safety problems, retail theft, and organized retail crime. It is, however, one crucial part of a multi-pronged approach to address these serious and pressing community issues.
To help tackle these public safety issues, funding is needed for an Organized Retail Crime Task Force as well as better education for law enforcement, the public, and our elected officials. Funding is also crucial for the recruitment and retention of law enforcement. Washington is 51st of the 50 U.S. states and Washington DC for officers per capita, substance addiction, and mental health treatment. This statistic means Washington needs more facilities, counselors, mental health professionals, and officers, and we must disincentivize thefts by making the monetization of stolen goods more difficult.
Two bills before the legislature seek to study police pursuit issues over the next several years. Studies would be helpful, and WR supports these efforts. However, these studies are not a replacement for passing meaningful police pursuit legislation as soon as possible so that law enforcement can keep the public safe and minimize criminal activity.
WR encourages the legislature to act swiftly on House Bill 1363—allowing police pursuits—sponsored by Rep. Alicia Rule (D-42.) We also support Senate Bill 5533, sponsored by Senator John Lovick (D-44), and House Bill 1586, sponsored by Rep. Roger Goodman (D-45), which create a workgroup to study the current laws and make improvement recommendations to the legislature.