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Washington law enforcement agencies push back on recent pursuit law

A video featuring police, sheriffs and mayors from Edmonds to Chelan urges people to contact their state representatives.

SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — Last year's passage of House Bill 1054 restricts when police can pursue a suspect in a vehicle.

With the law in place, police have approached suspected criminals who then speed away knowing there's nothing the police can do. According to authorities, it is an all too common occurrence.

"It's frustrating for our officers," said Marysville Police Chief Erik Scairpon. "It's also frustrating for the community."

They can only chase someone if there is probable cause to believe the person is either impaired, an escaped felon or has committed a violent or sexual crime.

Law enforcement from across Washington launched a public relations offensive aimed at the state's law. The five-minute video was produced by the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office.

In the video, Sheriff Adam Fortney voiced his concerns.

"Public safety decreases as criminals become more brazen, knowing police cannot pursue them to enforce the law," Fortney said.

The video uses body camera footage showing suspects speeding away from officers, sometimes crashing into innocent bystanders.  

Chelan County was one of the first jurisdictions adversely impacted by the new legislation.

There, the law prevented police from pursuing a suspect who stole a school bus. He later stole a front loader and smashed it into his own house.

The state of New Jersey reversed its pursuit law after seeing crime spike.

Chief Scairpon believes Washington's law must be fixed to give officers more discretion.

"If the risk of not apprehending the offender outweighs the risk of the pursuit, then police should be able to pursue and apprehend that person," Scairpon said.

The law's original sponsor called the video a "fear-mongering campaign ad."

State Representative Jesse Johnson doesn't see any need to change the law. Instead, Johnson wants to put more tools, like drones, in the hands of police to more safely track someone who is running from them.

"It's not going to increase public safety to put things back the way it was before, by any means," said Johnson, a Federal Way Democrat. "Our job is to save lives. In 2020, alone, we had 18 deaths from police pursuits. That's the second leading cause of death from police violence. That decreased by 55% last year because of the bill, so it is doing what it was intended to do."

From January through May of 2021, Washington State Patrol reported 934 incidents of "failure to yield" to a police officer, the first year it tracked that data.

A bill that would have given police more discretion passed the state House of Representatives during the last legislative session, but it died in the Senate.

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