April 18, 2024 2:18 pm

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Washington lawmakers hold public hearing on police pursuit initiative

OLYMPIA—The Senate Law and Justice Committee and the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee held a public hearing on February 28 to discuss I-2113, the police pursuit initiative. A total of 161 people signed up to testy in which 151 were in favor of the initiative; another 5,483 people signed a petition not to testify but shared their stance on the issue—5,300 in support in I-2113 with 183 either not in support or remaining neutral on the matter.

Statewide Initiative 2113 would amend the state’s current vehicular pursuit statute in two distinct ways; first the evidentiary threshold to engage in a pursuit is modified in that engaging officers would be able to engage in a pursuit if an officer has reasonable suspicion to believe the fleeing motorist has violated the law. Second, the officer may not engage in a pursuit unless the person being pursued poses a serious risk of harm to the safety of others and the safety risks of failing to apprehend or identify the person are considered greater than the safety risks of the pursuit.

It’s worth noting that the initiative does not explicitly define what “serious risk of harm” means, whether this would be up to the discretion of the officers or otherwise.

Putting these language amendments in context, using a hypothetical situation, under the current law, if a criminal were to steal a vehicle which had a firearm securely locked inside, officers would not be able to pursue that stolen vehicle/stolen firearm since it is not considered a “violent crime.” If the initiative were enacted, an officer would be able to pursue the stolen vehicle/stolen firearm since these are both Class B Felonies and fall under the initiative’s conditional rewording of “violated the law,” generally speaking.

If the initiative were to be enacted, all other requirements for an officer to engage in a pursuit would otherwise remain in effect.

A vehicular pursuit is defined by statute as an attempt by a uniformed peace officer in a vehicle equipped with emergency lights and a siren to stop a moving vehicle when the operator of the vehicle appears to be aware the officer is signaling the operator to stop the vehicle and the operator of the vehicle appears to be willfully resisting or ignoring the officer’s attempt to stop the vehicle by increasing speed, making evasive maneuvers, or operating the vehicle in a reckless manor, that endangers the safety of the community or the officer.

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From presentation at I-2113 pursuit initiative hearing on February 28, 2024. SOURCE: Snapshot from https://www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2024021425

Joe McKittrick, Counsel for the Law and Justice Committee, and Corey Patton, Staff to the Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee began the hearing by briefing the chamber of the initiative on the table.

In 2021 the legislature passed engrossed substitute House Bill 1054, sponsored by Representative Jesse Johnson (D-Federal Way), which in part codified statewide vehicular pursuit regulations.

The law prohibited vehicular pursuits unless the pursuing officer had probable cause to believe that a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent offense, a sex offense, or an escape offense, or if the officer has reasonable suspicion the operator of the vehicle is committing a DUI offense. The pursuit must also be necessary to identify or apprehend the person and the fleeing person must have posed an imminent threat to the safety of others and the safety risks of failing to apprehend or identify the fleeing person must have been considered greater than the safety risks associated with the pursuit.

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From presentation at I-2113 pursuit initiative hearing on February 28, 2024. SOURCE: Snapshot from https://www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2024021425

The law also required supervisory control of the pursuit but made certain exceptions to this requirement for jurisdictions with fewer than 10 commissioned officers.

In 2023 the legislature passed engrossed substitute Senate Bill 5352, sponsored by Senator John Lovick (D-Mill Creek), which modified the regulations on vehicular pursuits. Under this new law, the evidentiary threshold to engage in a pursuit was lowered from probable cause to reasonable suspicion that the person in the vehicle has committed or is committing one of the enumerated offenses. Also, the crimes of vehicular assault and domestic violence assaults were added to the list of crimes for which an officer may initiate a pursuit.

Rather than receive authorization to initiate a pursuit, under the new law, officers were required to notify their supervisor, who then maintains oversight of the pursuit. However, exceptions were made for jurisdictions with fewer than 15, rather than 10, commissioned officers. Requirements, under the new law, also specified that officers must coordinate with other jurisdictions that may be affected by the pursuit and were required to end the pursuit as soon as practical.

Finally, the law mandated that for an officer to engage in a pursuit they must have completed an emergency vehicle operator course, an updated emergency vehicle operators training within the previous two years, which includes training on performing the risk analysis of engaging in a pursuit, and to be certified in at least one pursuit intervention option.

Before public testimony Representative Mary Fosse (D-Everett) asked if there would be anything within the initiative that would prevent jurisdictions to have more restrictive practices on when they could engage in a pursuit to which Corey Patton— Staff to the Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee—mentioned that the initiative would “set the floor for statewide policy.”

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Corey Patton

“The initiative would not change the ability of individual agencies to have more restrictive, or differing policies, as long as they conform to the minimum standard set by statewide legislation,” said Patton.

First to testify was an in-person panel consisting of Representative Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen), who filed Initiative 2113 with the Secretary of State’s Office, local hedge fund manager Brian Heywood, and James McMahon, Policy Director for Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs (WASPC).

“We are at a critical point in this state’s history and the public safety of the people of this state. Initiative 2113 takes a very narrow touch to do the one thing, the single action we can take, to most effectively fight crime in Washington State,” said Rep. Walsh. “It leaves in place the standards for training, for supervision of police pursuits, and changes only the standard of discretion the pursuing officer has to meet to chase a criminal or criminal suspect. I believe that this change will help law enforcement be more effective.”

Initiative 2113 is just one of six Let’s Go Washington initiatives being considered in Olympia. It received 434,594 signatures before being verified by the Office of the Secretary of State Elections Division using a state-mandated process of examining a 3% random sample of submitted signatures.

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Brian Heywood speaking at the I-2113 pursuit initiative hearing on February 28, 2024. SOURCE: Snapshot from https://www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2024021425

Brian Heywood, initiative donor for the six Let’s Go Washington initiatives, spoke to the state’s current police pursuit laws stating it has increasingly impacted criminal’s disregard for the law.

“You have citizens who feel like if they don’t pursue a criminal stealing a car then why should I obey the speed limit? That is a bad precedent to put into a society,” said Heywood. “It begins a mistrust of the police, that is not good for any society throughout time. [It also] demoralizes the police workforce.”

McMahon representing the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police (WASPC) was next to speak. While the WASPC typically does not take sides on initiatives, the policies it has been advocating are consistent with the language changes Initiative 2113 would amend to current law, therefore warranting McMahon’s testimony.

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James McMahan speaking at the I-2113 pursuit initiative hearing on February 28, 2024. SOURCE: Snapshot from https://www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2024021425

“Law enforcement recognizes the potential dangers of vehicular pursuits, and no one wants more pursuits,” said McMahon. “However overly restrictive laws that allow fleeing from law enforcement to be a get out of jail free card are not the solution.”

McMahon noted that data from law enforcement agencies indicate that significantly more people are fleeing from law enforcement since the current law was enacted. During that same time, law enforcement has witnessed an increase in crime rates, increase in traffic collisions, and increases in traffic fatalities, he said.

“Washington cannot afford to continue fostering an environment which empowers criminals, jeopardizes public safety, and diminishes the rule of law,” said McMahon.

Geoffrey Alpert, who has been studying police pursuits for the last 30 years, providing seminars for criminal justice and law enforcement programs, and the working Director for a recent Department of Justice study on the impacts of police pursuits, had a different take from the former panelists.

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Geoffrey Alpert speaking at the I-2113 pursuit initiative hearing on February 28, 2024. SOURCE: Snapshot from https://www.tvw.org/watch/?clientID=9375922947&eventID=2024021425

Alpert used the example of a police agency in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which, upon considering several of the concerns like those voiced at Wednesday’s hearing, loosened their standards of pursuits which, Albert called, was essentially “signing a death sentence because the police started pursuing everything.”

“One of the main things we gotta consider is the police have no way to stop someone who’s fleeing other than the use of deadly force, a PIT maneuver, or stop sticks,” said Albert. “I started out being an advocate for pursuits until I started looking at the numbers.”

Josh Parker, Senior Council at The Policing Project, spoke to some of those numbers Albert mentioned.

“Although sometimes public safety demands that an officer pursue someone fleeing a traffic stop, a growing body of data and research shows that all too often these pursuits actually harm public safety by putting the lives of officers, and members of the public at risk,” said Parker. “As John Urquhart, former Sheriff of King County recently put it: ‘police pursuits are like firing a 4,000 pound bullet down the street and 4,000 pound bullets kill people.”

Just yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle published a study showing that more than 3,000 people have died from police vehicle pursuits in the last five years including more than 500 bystanders. That same study found that just 1 in 15 people killed were chased for violent crimes. Most of the time police are conducting high-speed chases of those suspected of committing nonviolent crimes or low-level driving infractions such as having a broken taillight or playing loud music.

According to federal government estimates police pursuits injured more than 52,000 people from 2017 through 2021. Vehicle pursuits are also dangerous for police officers with recent data revealing that more than 5% of all line-of-duty officer deaths involve vehicle pursuits. Pursuits are also costly. In the last five years local governments and insurers have paid out more than $80 million in settlements and judgements in lawsuits arising from pursuits and associated deaths.

On the other hand, Amber Goldade, a concerned citizen in favor of adopting Initiative 2113 shared a heart-breaking firsthand account of how relaxed police pursuit laws led to her daughter’s death.

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Immaculee Goldade. SOURCE: Amber Goldade,

On January 15, 2022, Goldade’s daughter, Immaculee, was struck by a man driving a stolen vehicle who left her for dead, she shared. Two weeks prior the killer of her daughter was involved in a robbery, high on meth, where the police had him in custody but could not pursue him when he fled the scene. She believes had the police pursued the man he would still be in jail and her daughter would have been alive today.

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