A bipartisan majority of the Washington State Senate voted today to update the law governing police pursuits, lowering the standard for police officers to instigate a chase from probable cause to reasonable suspicion while attaching a number of new conditions to police departments’ use of that pursuit authority.
Senate Bill 5352, prime sponsored by Senator John Lovick (D‑44th District: Snohomish County) was introduced on January 13th with many cosponsors.
Nothing more happened to it, until today, when the rules were suspended and it was brought to the floor, amended, subjected to debate, and given a vote.
The substitute passed by the Senate consisted of a compromise striker offered by Senator Manka Dhingra (D‑45th District: Redmond, Kirkland, Sammamish, Duvall), Chair of the Law & Justice Committee. The compromise deeply divided both caucuses in the Senate. Some Democratic senators helped Dhingra pass it, while many were opposed, and the Republican caucus also split over the bill.
Senator Dhingra, a Northwest Progressive Foundation boardmember, has been the subject of a right wing pressure campaign seeking a rollback of police reform bills, including restrictions on police pursuits. The language she offered today is an effort to strike a middle ground between leaving the law unchanged and yielding to the wishes of the roll it back and let the police chases rip crowd.
The effect of Senator Dhingra’s changes to the bill were summarized by staff as:
(1) Modifies the evidentiary threshold required for engaging in a vehicular pursuit by allowing an officer to conduct the vehicular pursuit if the officer has reasonable suspicion that a person has or is committing specified crimes.
(2) Limits vehicular pursuits to situations where the subject of the vehicular pursuit poses a serious risk of harm to others.
(3) Modifies certain vehicular pursuit requirements related to supervisory authorization and control, and establishes new requirements related to direct communication with specified entities, development of a plan to end the pursuit, and the pursuing officer’s training and certification.
(4) Provides an emergency clause.
The bill attracted 26 yea votes and 23 nay votes.
The roll call was as follows:
3rd Reading & Final Passage
Yeas: 26; Nays: 23
Voting Yea: Senators Billig, Cleveland, Conway, Dhingra, Fortunato, Gildon, Hawkins, Holy, Kauffman, Keiser, King, Liias, Lovick, MacEwen, Mullet, Muzzall, Randall, Rivers, Robinson, Rolfes, Salomon, Shewmake, Torres, Van De Wege, Wellman, Wilson (Jeff)
Voting Nay: Senators Boehnke, Braun, Dozier, Frame, Hasegawa, Hunt, Kuderer, Lovelett, McCune, Nguyen, Nobles, Padden, Pedersen, Saldaña, Schoesler, Short, Stanford, Trudeau, Valdez, Wagoner, Warnick, Wilson (Claire), Wilson (Lynda)
Just to give you a sense of how unusual this vote was, here’s the breakdown:
- 16 Democrats voted yea for the bill
- 13 Democrats voted nay against the bill
- 10 Republicans voted yea for the bill
- 10 Republicans voted nay against the bill
|Democrats who opposed the bill were:||Republicans who opposed the bill were:|
Basically, it was the inverse of a party-line vote… and we just don’t see those very often nowadays. There were progressive senators on both sides of the vote, although most progressive Democratic senators were nays, including the entire Seattle delegation (Joe Nguyen, Jamie Pedersen, Rebecca Saldaña, Javier Valdez, Noel Frame, Bob Hasegawa). Among Eastside senators, only Patty Kuderer voted nay, with Lisa Wellman and Mark Mullet joining Dhingra in voting yea.
Mullet explained his thinking in a swiftly-issued press release.
“I want to thank my colleagues for bringing this bill to a vote on the floor. Ensuring the authority of police to pursue violent criminals will help us catch bad guys and keep folks safe. This is an important part of our public safety mission this year, along with reforming our drug possession laws, passing legislation on gun violence prevention, and a whole host of other good bills.”
“This bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a big improvement over the status quo, and I want to see it move through the rest of the process and get to the governor’s desk to be signed into law,” Mullet added.
“Violent criminals should hear what this means – when you see the lights and sirens, pull over, because you cannot just drive away and you will be caught.”
As mentioned above, Senator Dhingra’s striker requires police to comply with new requirements when initiating a chase under the reasonable suspicion standard.
These new requirements are as follows (text is from the substitute bill):
Notification: “The supervising officer, the pursuing officer, or dispatcher shall notify other law enforcement agencies or surrounding jurisdictions that may be impacted by the vehicular pursuit or called upon to assist with the vehicular pursuit, and the pursuing officer and the supervising officer […]
Communication: “The pursuing officer must be able to directly communicate with other officers engaging in the pursuit, the supervising officer, if applicable, and the dispatch agency, such as being on a common radio channel or having other direct means of communication […]”
Exit strategy: “As soon as practicable after initiating a vehicular pursuit, the pursuing officer, supervising officer, if applicable, or responsible agency shall develop a plan to end the pursuit through the use of available pursuit intervention options, such as the use of the pursuit intervention technique, deployment of spike strips or other tire deflation devices, or other department authorized pursuit intervention tactics.”
Training: “The pursuing officer must have completed an emergency vehicle operator’s course, must have completed updated emergency vehicle operator training in the previous two years, where applicable, and must be certified in at least one pursuit intervention option.”
“A vehicle pursuit not meeting the requirements under this section must be terminated,” the proposed law states. (That’s also new language).
The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability has opposed efforts to weaken the restrictions on police pursuits that were adopted back in 2021.
“In 2021, the Washington State Legislature adopted a balanced statewide standard for police vehicular pursuits to address the growing risk that pursuits posed to the general public,” the coalition noted in a January statement. “At that time, pursuits were responsible for 10–20% of the fatalities from police activities each year. Half of those killed were uninvolved bystanders or passengers.”
“The 2021 law prioritizes public safety: police are allowed to engage in pursuits when there is an established threat to public safety – violent offenses (like carjackings, armed robberies), sex offenses, DUIs, and prison escapes – but not for misdemeanors or property crimes.”
“The data show that the reform has achieved its purpose: there have been 3 deaths from pursuits since the law changed, compared to 9 deaths in the same timeframe before, nearly a 70% reduction in fatalities.”
“The law is working. We are saving lives.”
Senator Dhingra has articulated a similar view, and declined to give this bill (in its original incarnation, as proposed by Senator John Lovick) a hearing back in January or February in the Law & Justice Committee.
However, as today’s events demonstrate, bills aren’t truly dead just because they don’t survive a cut-off. There are ways to revive a bill, and one of those ways was used today to bring SB 5352 out of committee and send it to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
The Washington Coalition for Police Accountability’s slideshow on police pursuits is worth checking out if you’re not familiar with the debate over this bill. If we get reaction from the coalition to today’s events, we will update this post.