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Wash. law giving police broader pursuit powers goes into effect after controversy over restrictions

Under the previous law, officers were only allowed to pursue a driver if they had “reasonable suspicion” that someone in the car had committed certain violent crimes

Kelso officer joins Washington State Patrol under new training for experienced recruits

“The bottom line is we have to think outside the historical box and still maintain the high standards for which our agency is known,” he said. “Each of these nine has already proven they have what it takes to be a modern law enforcement officer, and each has already served their nation, their state, and their communities with distinction.”

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By Daniel Schrager
The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

SEATTLE, Wash. — Starting June 6, police officers in Washington state will have broader reign to chase drivers suspected of a crime.

Under the previous iteration of the law, which went into effect in July of 2021, officers were only allowed to pursue a driver if they had “reasonable suspicion” that someone in the car had committed a violent crime, sex crime, domestic violence or a vehicular assault, was attempting to escape custody or was driving under the influence.

Now, after Initiative 2113 was passed in March, officers can pursue a car if they have reason to believe someone inside the vehicle violated the law in any way.

2021 pursuit law was controversial

The initiative reverses changes made by a 2021 law, which limited police pursuits, among other restrictions on the amount of force that officers could use. Critics of the law said that it didn’t give law enforcement enough authority to pursue suspects and protect communities, pointing to rising crime in the state. According to FBI data, Washington’s violent crime rate rose from 303 offenses per 100,000 people in 2019 (and 294 in a pandemic-affected 2020) to 336 in 2021 and 376 in 2022.

Proponents of the reform, meanwhile, cited evidence that high-speed chases endanger the public and claim they should only be conducted when absolutely necessary. According to the San Francisco Chronicle , over 3,000 people died nationwide in police chases between 2017 and 2022, including over 500 bystanders.

Data compiled by retired University of Washington professor Martina Morris found that the state saw 11 deaths as a result of police pursuits in the 15 months before the reforms took effect, and two deaths in the 15 months following the reforms.

What else does Initiative 2113 change?

In addition to broadening the number of crimes that police are allowed to pursue a vehicle for, I-2113 lowers the standard needed to set off a pursuit. Before, a suspect needed to pose a “serious risk of harm to others” in order for police to start a pursuit. Now, they need to deem the suspect “a threat to the safety of others” in order to justify a chase.

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(c)2024 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)
Visit The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.) at www.bellinghamherald.comDistributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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