Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Say New Police Pursuit Law Still Needs Work
The Washington Legislature has ended it's 105-day session with some reforms of the police pursuit law. Proponents describe passage of the police pursuit bill this session as a step in the right direction but concede more reform is needed to reduce record-levels of crime.
SB 5352 was passed by the Washington State Legislature April 17th and Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign it into law.
The Center Square reports SB 5352 makes changes to 2021 legislation enacted under HB 1054 that raised the threshold to trigger a police vehicular pursuit from "reasonable suspicion" to "probable cause" that a suspect had committed a crime for certain crimes.
Lawmakers were asked by law enforcement to consider the changes after a dramatic surge in the number of people fleeing from traffic stops or suspected of crimes.
Under SB 5352, officers with "reasonable suspicion" that a suspect in a vehicle has committed selected crimes may initiate a pursuit. The list includes a domestic violence assault, vehicular assault, DUI or a sex offense. There are other parameters the officer must consider including the public risk of allowing the suspect to flee and other procedures related to a pursuit.
Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) Executive Director Steven D. Strachan issues a statement on the bill "There were necessary adjustments to laws related to the pursuit of suspects. SB 5352 addressed many law enforcement and community concerns and we are pleased the governor plans to sign the legislation. However, more work will be needed to address community concerns regarding crimes such as motor vehicle theft, organized retail theft, or residential burglary."
Center Square reports lawmaker's intent with HB 1054 in 2021 was to reduce the number of fatalities in police pursuits. Washington Traffic Safety Commission statistics show 28 fatalities over a 7 year period but 19 of those deaths were the fleeing driver. Since the passage of HB 1054, WASPC says the number of drivers increased by more than 100%.