Legislative Democrats got it wrong when they changed the standard for police pursuits from one based on reasonable suspicion to one based on probable cause. Having made criminals’ lives easier for nearly two years, they now are blocking the one thing that would make this right.
Democrats will not allow bipartisan bills that would restore the reasonable-suspicion standard to move forward. Instead, they favor partisan legislation that would fix nothing: Senate Bill 5533 and House Bill 1586.
SB 5533 would effectively hand the job of reforming the law to the Criminal Justice Training Commission, letting legislative Democrats off the hook for fixing the mistake they made in 2021 with House Bill 1054. Many of those legislators recently promised voters they would address public-safety concerns. Unfortunately for our communities, passing the buck doesn’t count. HB 1586 is a very similar bill that merely studies the issue. In the meantime, people would continue to be victimized while police are forced to stand by and watch criminals speed away.
According to the Washington State Patrol, between 2014 and 2020 an average of 1,200 suspects per year fled from police. In 2022, after the standard was changed to probable cause, 3,100 suspects fled — a jump of more than 150%. Also, before the change in the law, the statewide record for stolen cars in a single year was 30,000. That climbed by 50% for 2022, to 45,000 stolen vehicles.
This data makes three things very clear. Our streets are more dangerous now than before the change in the law. Forbidding officers to pursue without probable cause emboldens and encourages criminals to victimize others. And our communities can’t afford to wait around one or two years for Democrats, or the CJTC, to act.
People are getting hurt.
The stated intent of HB 1054 was to reduce the number of innocent bystanders killed during high-speed police chases. That is a worthwhile goal. But, in addition to the increase in property crimes such as car theft, it has had life-threatening unintended consequences.
Consider the case of Sgt. Jeremy Brown in Clark County. He was shot and killed by suspects who earlier had fled from police who did not give chase. Had the fleeing suspects been captured, Sgt. Brown might still be alive. His widow now speaks out against the weaker law for fear that those who are allowed to flee will go on to victimize, and perhaps kill, others as a result.
Since the switch to the probable-cause standard, law-enforcement agencies and experts have been very vocal in calling for a solution, citing instance after instance where the new law failed. They’ve been largely disregarded by the Democratic majority that has the power to help. While some place the blame squarely on Sen. Manka Dhingra, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, the Senate Democratic Caucus shares the responsibility for her decisions. Because the chair serves at the pleasure of the caucus, they all own a piece of this failure.
Do members of the Senate’s majority believe the innocent victims of police pursuits matter in a way that innocent victims of other crimes do not? I doubt it. But refusing to admit you made a mistake despite good intentions, refusing to listen to those who are on the street dealing with the fallout day in and day out, and refusing to give bipartisan solutions full consideration is irresponsible and unfair.
So is the claim by Sen. Dhingra, the Law & Justice chair, that everyone who is upset about this is just too “emotional.” Recognizing failed policy is not being too emotional. Listening to community members who have been victimized and trying to fix the problem is not being too emotional. It’s what we ought to be doing as legislators.
Lately, Democrats have often used the term “lived experience,” saying it should influence policymaking. At the same time, they cite a debunked study that casts doubt on the perceptions and lived experiences of those who have been hurt by their actions. That’s textbook gaslighting.
Even Gov. Jay Inslee thinks the law needs to be fixed. In a recent interview with Seattle talk-radio host John Carlson, the governor said he would support reasonable changes that reach his desk. To me, that sounds like a challenge — a challenge for legislative Democrats to swallow their pride, acknowledge their mistake and fix it. Not in a year. Now.
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