Washington State Patrol vehicles
Washington State Patrol vehicles responding to an incident in DuPont (Photo: Richard Bauer, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

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:

Roll Call
ESB 5352
Vehic­u­lar pursuits
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:
  1. Noel Frame
  2. Bob Hasegawa
  3. Sam Hunt
  4. Pat­ty Kuderer
  5. Liz Lovelett
  6. Joe Ngyen
  7. T’wina Nobles
  8. Jamie Ped­er­sen
  9. Rebec­ca Saldaña
  10. Derek Stan­ford
  11. Yas­min Trudeau
  12. Javier Valdez
  13. Claire Wil­son
Repub­li­cans who opposed the bill were:
  1. Matt Boehnke
  2. John Braun
  3. Per­ry Dozier
  4. Bob McCune
  5. Mike Pad­den
  6. Mark Schoesler
  7. Shel­ley Short
  8. Kei­th Wagoner
  9. Judy War­nick
  10. Lyn­da Wilson

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

Adjacent posts