Eastern Washington’s representatives say police are being handcuffed by laws that are not allowing them to do their jobs, making communities not as safe as they once were.
Mary Dye and Joe Schmick, 9th District representatives of the House in Washington state, wanted to hear from small communities on issues presented in the 2023 legislative session. Both listened to people from all over the state during their telephone town hall event hosted in Olympia.
A caller from Spokane County asked representatives “What’s the deal with police pursuits?” referring to the bill that prohibits almost all vehicle pursuits in the state.
Schmick said the House is working on a bill to give officers a greater ability to pursue vehicles, which was recently passed over to the Senate in Washington state. He added the bill had survived the cutoff deadline, and hopes representatives can strengthen it as it comes back to the House.
The measure in place sets a higher standard to grant officers probable cause in order to pursue a vehicle, according to past reporting. Police may only engage in a chase if the suspect is under suspicion of a violent offense, including a sex offense, domestic violence-related offense, driving while under the influence or trying to escape an arrest.
The proposed bill Schmick mentioned would allow officers to pursue a vehicle under reasonable suspicion if suspects had committed and/or are committing a crime.
“We have handcuffed the police and not allowed them to do their job,” Schmick said. “I think our citizens, even in our small towns, have started to feel the effect of this. We’re handcuffing (police) and our communities just aren’t as safe as they once were.”
Congresswoman Dye said the current measure is a bad law and it needs to be changed. She added last week in Seattle a driver was going the wrong way on the freeway at excessive speeds. The car slammed into a vehicle and killed two small children. Troopers tried to stop the vehicle four times but had to call off pursuits because of this law.
“It’s this type of loss of life and suffering we are experiencing because of this law,” Dye said.
Schmick added there have been over 700 drive-offs just this year from people who won’t yield to officers, and police had to discontinue their pursuit.
“Hopefully some things during this legislative session can happen to stop this,” Schmick said.
Representatives held a poll during the event and found 87% of people in the call supported legislation that would allow officers to pursue vehicles under reasonable suspicion; 5% were against and 8% didn’t know.
Both Schmick and Dye urged people to call their local representatives and express their opinion on the current measure, as well as comment on the proposed bill allowing officers to pursue vehicles under reasonable suspicion.