Giovonn Joseph-McDade memorial plaque
The memorial plaque at the site where Giovonn Joseph-McDade was killed in Kent (Photo courtesy of the family)

Like the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, the Wash­ing­ton Coali­tion for Police Account­abil­i­ty (WCPA) oppos­es Ini­tia­tive 2113, which was cer­ti­fied to the Leg­is­la­ture by the Sec­re­tary of State on Jan­u­ary 11th.

I‑2113 weak­ens Washington’s pur­suit pol­i­cy and puts all Wash­ing­to­ni­ans at increased risk of injury or death, with no real ben­e­fit to pub­lic safety.

Washington’s pur­suit pol­i­cy was adopt­ed in 2021 after sev­er­al years of ris­ing fatal­i­ties from police chas­es. Pur­suits had become the sec­ond lead­ing cause of death from police activ­i­ties, and over half of those killed were unin­volved bystanders, pas­sen­gers, and offi­cers. At the time, many juris­dic­tions in Wash­ing­ton, includ­ing Taco­ma and Spokane, had restric­tions on pur­suits on the books because of the gen­er­al recog­ni­tion that pur­suits are inher­ent­ly dan­ger­ous and should be reserved for the most seri­ous vio­la­tions of crim­i­nal law.

The pro­po­nents of I‑2113 want to allow a pur­suit for a vio­la­tion of any law. This includes infrac­tions, which are not crimes, like expired tabs, a cracked wind­shield, or tint­ed win­dows. Con­trast that very broad approach with exist­ing law, which is lim­it­ed to pur­suits for seri­ous crimes against per­sons and DUIs.

Giovonn Joseph McDade
Por­trait of Giovonn Joseph McDade (Pho­to cour­tesy of the family)

To under­stand why this mat­ters, we need to look no fur­ther than the death of Giovonn Joseph McDade, the son of co-author Sonia Joseph.

Giovonn was just twen­ty when he was shot by police at the con­clu­sion of a pur­suit that start­ed because of expired tabs.

I‑2113 makes no dis­tinc­tion between an expired reg­is­tra­tion, a stolen car, or a shoot­ing in terms of the type of offens­es that can start a pur­suit. The lack of speci­fici­ty is the prob­lem and why I‑2113 should not become law.

Let’s talk about the exist­ing law on pursuits.

Has the exist­ing law made Wash­ing­ton a “no pur­suit” state? No.

Cur­rent state law allows pur­suits, and if you fol­low the news you will see that law enforce­ment agen­cies con­tin­ue to reg­u­lar­ly use them across the state.

The wis­dom of cur­rent law is that it is spe­cif­ic about what offens­es allow police to start a pur­suit  – vio­lent offens­es (includ­ing a shoot­ing, car­jack­ings, armed rob­beries), sex offens­es (includ­ing rape, child molesta­tion, incest), DUIs, and prison escapes – but not mis­de­meanors or prop­er­ty crimes.

The cur­rent pol­i­cy rec­og­nizes that the lives of bystanders, pas­sen­gers, neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents, the dri­ver, and the police, should be placed above using pur­suits to enforce offens­es like shoplift­ing, bro­ken tail lights, and theft.

Has the exist­ing pur­suit pol­i­cy reduced fatalities?

Yes — based on the data we have, fatal­i­ties have been reduced.

After Wash­ing­ton adopt­ed a state-wide pur­suit pol­i­cy in 2021, pur­suit-relat­ed fatal­i­ties in the state dropped by half. The law passed about two and a half years ago, and as more time elaps­es we will be able to see if these  trends are sus­tained. The evi­dence to date shows the pol­i­cy is work­ing as intend­ed. Law enforce­ment offi­cers con­tin­ue to use pur­suits where there is a risk of immi­nent harm, but few­er peo­ple are get­ting killed.

In addi­tion to fatal­i­ties, pur­suits can cause oth­er col­lat­er­al dam­age such as traf­fic acci­dents, injuries, and prop­er­ty dam­age. With­out addi­tion­al data, we can’t see whether the pol­i­cy has also reduced these harms. Wash­ing­ton state law does not have a require­ment for pool­ing and ana­lyz­ing the data that many law enforce­ment agen­cies are already col­lect­ing on pur­suits. We need these data to get a com­plete pic­ture of the dam­age and costs asso­ci­at­ed with police pursuits.

Has the pur­suit pol­i­cy led to an increase in crimes like motor vehi­cle theft? No.

There is ample evi­dence that, while these rates did rise, they rose for oth­er rea­sons. Motor vehi­cle thefts have risen around the coun­try, not just in our state, and the rise began dur­ing 2020, before our state enact­ed a pur­suit pol­i­cy in July 2021, which was revised last year. There is some con­sen­sus that the recent spike in vehi­cle thefts has been dri­ven by a com­bi­na­tion of COVID-relat­ed dis­rup­tions, which led to large increas­es in the prices of used cars, and the viral 2021 social media chal­lenge that showed how to steal Kia and Hyundai cars with a USB drive.

And while the vehi­cle theft rate has risen here in Wash­ing­ton, this should be placed in his­tor­i­cal con­text. Despite the recent spike, Washington’s motor vehi­cle theft rates are still low­er than they were in 2005. It is also worth not­ing that in 2022, under the cur­rent pur­suit pol­i­cy, the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment report­ed that it recov­ered almost 70% of the stolen vehi­cles in their juris­dic­tion. The com­pa­ra­ble nation­al fig­ure for stolen vehi­cle recov­er­ies is 46%.

Our state pol­i­cy aligns with the best prac­tices for law enforce­ment  rec­om­mend­ed last year in a report on vehic­u­lar pur­suits.

The report came from the nation­al­ly respect­ed Police Exec­u­tive Research Forum (PERF) and was pub­lished joint­ly with the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the Nation­al High­way Traf­fic Safe­ty Admin­is­tra­tion. As the exec­u­tive direc­tor of PERF wrote: “You can get a sus­pect anoth­er day, but you can’t get a life back.”

Ini­tia­tive 2113 will drag the state back­ward, allow­ing pur­suits for any vio­la­tion of law. This will inevitably make the streets more dan­ger­ous for all of us, because high-speed vehic­u­lar pur­suits put every­one – offi­cers, unin­volved bystanders, dri­vers, pas­sen­gers, neigh­bors, kids walk­ing to school, and small-busi­ness own­ers and cus­tomers – at risk of injury and death. Exist­ing law is sav­ing lives – and we believe it could have saved the life of Giovonn.

We oppose I‑2113 because we know the harm it will cause and we don’t want it to hap­pen to oth­ers. I‑2113 is too broad and Wash­ing­to­ni­ans deserve better.

About the authors

Sonia Joseph is the Board Chair of the Wash­ing­ton Coali­tion for Police Account­abil­i­ty, the founder and Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of My Advo­cate, and the moth­er of Giovonn Joseph McDade who was killed by Kent Police in June 2017. Sonia serves as a com­mis­sion­er on the Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Train­ing Commission.

Mar­ti­na Mor­ris is a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton Coali­tion for Police Account­abil­i­ty, and a retired pro­fes­sor of Sta­tis­tics and Soci­ol­o­gy from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton.  She served as a mem­ber of the Wash­ing­ton State Attor­ney General’s advi­so­ry board on the design of the state’s use of force data col­lec­tion program.

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