The following editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times:
Speaker Laurie Jinkins and other House Democratic leaders should ensure bipartisan legislation to change police pursuit policies is brought to the floor for a vote. A majority of state senators and Gov. Jay Inslee support it.
This is a second chance for House leaders, who balked at bringing a similar House- originated bill to the floor before a key deadline.
Changing the standards used by police to pursue suspects has been one of the flashpoint issues in Olympia this year.
On one side, state Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, asserted that data showed a sharp decrease in accidents involving police since the Legislature restricted pursuits two years ago.
Those statistics were credibly challenged. But the battle lines were drawn between those who wanted to give police more discretion on when to pursue suspects and those who believed the community was safer if such practices were limited to a few specific circumstances.
Senate Bill 5352 would allow a law enforcement officer to initiate a chase if the officer has reasonable suspicion that a person in a vehicle has committed or is committing a crime.
Under the measure, alleged crimes for which a pursuit can be undertaken include a violent offense, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offenses, driving under the influence of intoxicating substances or trying to escape arrest. It limits vehicular pursuits to situations where the subject of the pursuit poses a serious risk of harm to others.
The bill passed 26-23 with 16 Democrats and 10 Republicans in support.
“In this instance, I cannot let perfection be the enemy of good. Because, candidly, anything is better than what we have now,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, on the floor.
This debate has real-world implications. The Washington State Patrol last year recorded more than 3,100 instances of drivers fleeing stops.
On Feb. 28, an 8-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy died after the car they were riding in was hit by a driver going the wrong way on I-82 near Sunnyside.
According to the Yakima Herald-Republic, a Washington State Patrol trooper first spotted the person speeding an hour before. But the trooper couldn’t stop the driver because state laws restrict police pursuits, a spokesman said.
Inslee indicated he supports changing the current pursuit policies along the lines of the Senate legislation.
“I think that some changes on adjusting that needle on police pursuits — realizing there’s always some danger of pursuits, but there’s also a danger of further criminal conduct as well — I think that needle needs change,” he said.
The Senate bill is not perfect. But doing nothing is irresponsible and would run counter to common sense and public sentiment. House leaders, bring this legislation to a vote. It’s a necessary stopgap, as lawmakers are sure to revisit this issue next year.