Serving Franklin County, WA

Police given more leeway to pursue suspects

OLYMPIA — After voters submitted an initiative rolling back some police pursuit regulations, the Legislature approved the measure.

As a result, new rules giving police more leeway to engage in high-speed pursuits become law June 5.

“The people of the state are suffering increasing rates of crime, property, crime, violent crime,” said Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen. “When I talked to cops and sheriff's deputies, they told me the one thing more than anything else that we need is the ability to chase bad people.”

In 2021, the Legislature restricted police pursuits, limiting them to when officers had “probable cause” a person in a vehicle committed violent, sex, domestic violence-related, driving under the influence or escape offenses. The standard was changed to “reasonable suspicion” in 2022. 

The voter-backed initiative lowers the standards to less violent crimes such, as theft.

“We have become the nation's leader in car theft,” said Brian Heywood, prime funder of Let’s Go Washington, which promoted the initiatives. “We've had skyrocketing increases in our car insurance rates. This is a direct result of an increased car theft caused by the inability of the police to pursue.”

Opponents said vehicular pursuits put more people in danger.

But James McMahan of Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs explained the law does not change the fact officers must engage in “the balancing test.” 

For example, if an officer saw someone in a school zone with expired tabs, they likely would not begin a chase because pursuit poses more harm.

Other opponents argued vehicular pursuits are not effective. 

Ryan Spurling, Mason County Sheriff, explained how officers see pursuits. 

“I don't think any of us like pursuits,” Spurling said. “We don't choose to pursue; the person chooses to flee.”

Spurling said oftentimes when people choose to flee, they have committed multiple crimes. 

While the initiative passed with bipartisan support, some lawmakers still voted no. 

Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent, said she worked very hard with community stakeholders to change the law in 2021. 

Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, said her district's standards do not align with this standard of pursuit.


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