In the News: State Republican Lawmakers Criticize Democrats Over Police Pursuit Bill

By The Chronicle staff
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State Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, criticized his Democratic colleagues on the state Senate Law and Justice Committee on Friday for rejecting Republican attempts to reform what he called a “criminal-friendly flaw” in a police pursuit law.

According to Padden, the Democrats chose to instead take a partisan approach, delaying a solution for at least 18 months.

Senate Bill 5533, passed out of the state Senate Law and Justice Committee last Thursday, would create a policy work group within the state Criminal Justice Training Commission composed of community and law enforcement stakeholders. The work group would be tasked with creating a model vehicle pursuit policy to be presented to the Legislature by Oct. 31, 2024.

“This bill won’t fix the problems caused by not allowing law enforcement officers to use ‘reasonable suspicion’ when they decide whether to engage in vehicle pursuits of suspects. Instead, it would basically kick this important issue down the road for 18 months, or maybe longer, by having the state Criminal Justice Training Commission start a work group on it,” said Padden, who serves as the top Republican on the Law and Justice Committee. “A key reason why Washington is seeing a spike in crime is because officers are not allowed to pursue suspects in most cases. We need to take action now on this matter, not study it for a year or longer.”

Both Padden and state Sen. Keith Wagoner, R-Sedro-Woolley, another Republican on the Law and Justice Committee, offered amendments to SB 5533 before it was passed out of the committee.

Padden’s amendment would have increased the size of the work group and required the group to consider additional factors when drafting a model policy for vehicular pursuits by officers. The amendment was defeated along party lines.

Wagoner’s amendment would have prevented the bill from going into effect unless the Legislature also passed a law changing the threshold required for law enforcement to engage in a vehicular pursuit from probable cause to reasonable suspicion. The amendment was ruled “out of scope” by the committee chair Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond. Padden challenged that ruling but his motion was defeated in a five-to-five vote.

“We’ve been hearing from our communities, from our mayors, from our county commissioners, from our police departments, how important it is for us to fix this,” Wagoner said. “I haven’t heard any calls to study it. I’ve heard many calls to fix it and it is important that we get the fix right. That’s why I support the study and I support the idea of a model policy that protects everyone. But in the meantime, we are not keeping our communities as safe as we could. We can argue about cause and effect … but I know this for a fact: The switch went one way and things got worse. It might be prudent to switch the switch the other way and see if we can at least maintain the status quo or get things better while we study a model policy. Sometimes, when the Legislature doesn’t want to move on something, we kick it to a joint task force or a study. I don’t want to see that happen with something that is so critically important to the safety of our communities.”