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Police support bill to roll back restrictions on pursuits

Opponents of the 2021 pursuit law blame it for an increase in car thefts.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Citing a rise in crimes like car thefts, police chiefs, sheriffs, mayors and representatives from several law enforcement organizations encouraged House members Tuesday to roll back restrictions on police pursuits.

In 2021, the state passed a law restricting pursuits to crimes involving violence, sex, or drunk drivers, and only when officers had proof a crime had occurred.

House Bill 1363 would restore the ability for officers to pursue someone when the officer has “reasonable suspicion” a crime has happened, a lower standard than the current law.

Members from several law enforcement agencies in support of the move told House members criminals are taking advantage of the fact they won’t be chased.

”What we’ve learned over the last 18 months, is that the policy, we didn’t get it right,” said Jeff DeVere from the Washington Coalition of Police and Sheriffs. “We found out even in those jurisdictions where there’s been no pursuit policy, there was a vast increase in the number of people who were not stopping for simple traffic infractions,” said DeVere.

Those who helped get the legislation passed in 2021 testified against the measure.

“I would ask you to keep this law in place,” said Leslie Cushman, from the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability.

"I would ask each of you to think about losing a child or a spouse or a parent from a suspect who is driving recklessly through your neighborhood and being pursued by a police officer. That police officer needs a really good reason to engage in a high-stakes chase and I think current law has it right,” said Cushman.

The House bill has support from Democrats and Republicans. But if it passes out of the House, its fate is uncertain in the Senate.

A similar bill filed in the Senate was not granted a hearing in the Law and Justice Committee.

Committee chair Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said she is not convinced the pursuit policy has resulted in an increase in crime. She supports a bill to have the issue studied by law enforcement and community members.

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