A new bill Gov. Jay Inslee just signed into law Wednesday afternoon changes when law enforcement can chase criminals.
It gives more latitude to police on when they can initiate a pursuit. The biggest difference is now police don’t need probable cause of a violent crime to chase a criminal – just reasonable suspicion.
“I believe this is a step forward, a reasonable measure and balance, to ensure public safety,” Inslee said during the bill signing in Pasco.
The new law went into effect immediately after the signing. But it does not change how police can respond to property crimes – meaning if an officer sees your stolen car racing by, they still can’t give chase.
For some people KIRO 7 spoke with in Pierce County, that is a problem.
“I think it’s crap,” said Alan Bonner, who said he had his car stolen last year in Tacoma. He pointed to a broken window, saying someone had just broken into his girlfriend’s car last week.
“I think they should be able to uphold the law,” said Robin McGaughy, another Tacoma resident. She said she’s also had a car stolen in the past.
As for what the new law changes, law enforcement officials need “reasonable suspicion” for violent and sexual crimes, DUI, domestic violence, and vehicular assault.
The previous law, passed in 2021, required law enforcement to have “probable cause” – or hard evidence – of violent and sexual crimes, and DUI.
Sgt. Darren Moss of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department gives an example of witnesses reporting murder suspect getting in a red car and fleeing the scene. He says now, a deputy seeing a red car speeding away can pursue.
“With the laws that they put in place before, I could not chase that red car without probable cause, which means I need a license plate, a really specific description of the driver, or something on the vehicle that stands out that says this is the vehicle that committed that crime,” Moss said.
However, he says needing to chase for those types of crimes are very rare.
“The biggest concern I have is that the crimes that we saw an increase in, they didn’t address,” Moss said. “Auto theft went up significantly. Burglaries went up significantly. And the number of people that run from us is very significantly higher than it used to be.”
Before the 2021 law that limited police vehicle pursuits, law enforcement had more discretion and different departments had their own specific policies. In Pierce County, part of their policy was to chase if the danger from the pursuit didn’t outweigh the risks to the public.
“If you see a stolen car and he’s driving on a two-lane road and there’s nobody else around, why can’t we chase it?” Moss said.
Lawmakers opposed to that say pursuits are just too dangerous for the public to warrant a chase when no one has been hurt.
“Limit police vehicle pursuits to the most serious crimes. Those crimes that don’t involve injury to person can be solved in other manners,” said Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland) during session on March 28.
Inslee acknowledged Wednesday that many law enforcement groups are hoping for more changes in the future. He compared the police pursuit problem to climbing Mount Everest at the bill signing, saying it needs to be addressed step by step.
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