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Latest police pursuit bill proposal passes Washington state House

The bill lowers the threshold for police to pursue a suspect from probable cause to reasonable suspicion, but only for limited crimes.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The latest version of a bill that would lower the threshold for police pursuits in Washington state passed the House of Representatives early Tuesday morning.

Engrossed Senate Bill 5352 passed the state House with a 57-40 vote during a late-night legislative session.

The bill lowers the threshold for police to pursue a suspect from probable cause to reasonable suspicion, but only for limited crimes: violent offense, sex offense, or an escape, or DUI, vehicular assault, domestic violence assault in the first, second, third, or fourth-degree offense.

Another change: the current law allows pursuits only if the person poses an "imminent threat," while this proposal allows pursuits if a person poses a "serious risk of harm to others."

The bill now returns to the Senate for final approval. Senate Minority Leader John Braun said he is "absolutely" concerned the bill will die in the Senate.

In 2021, Washington state law increased the threshold for evidence required for a police pursuit while limiting the types of crimes that can result in chases.

The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability helped get the 2021 law passed.

The organization's spokesperson, Leslie Cushman, said the law got “scapegoated” by law enforcement who blamed a rise on crime on the 2021 law.

“Pursuits are a costly and ineffective tool for addressing the crimes that people seem to want to address,” said Cushman in an emailed statement, “Pursuits lead to more violence and injuries and we hope that law enforcement agencies start sharing their data publicly so the outcomes from this law change can be evaluated.”

Rep. Roger Goodman, (D) Kirkland, said legislators wanted to find a balance between the risks of letting someone speed away from police versus the risks of a high-speed chase.

He said allowing pursuits for property crimes, like some legislators proposed, would result in "mayhem and death."

"This so-called solution probably left everyone equally unhappy, which means it's probably a good compromise," said Goodman.

House Minority Leader, Rep. J.T. Wilcox, (R) Yelm, voted against the proposal, but was glad to see the bill passed.

Wilcox wanted to let police decide which crimes are worthy of a pursuit, especially in cases of car theft or reckless driving.

"It's a tiny little step, it's not enough," said Wilcox, "But at the same time we have to take little steps to reload for next year and make a lot more progress next year."

The Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) released a statement Tuesday following the House's approval of the bill.

We are pleased that the Washington State House of Representatives has passed a measure with bipartisan support to address the 2021 pursuit law. Legislators showed leadership and support for victims of crime. However, there is more work to be done on this important issue in the future.

This important legislation will make incremental improvements to the 2021 law that severely restricts the possibility of suspects being pursued by law enforcement. We appreciate the bipartisan work that has been done, and will continue to be required, on this important public safety issue, and we are committed to advocating for balanced approaches that respect victims of crime.

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