Common sense, accountability needed to fix bad police pursuit law

Jan 31, 2023

OLYMPIA…There’s a data war happening in the Washington State Senate. It’s over the need for reform to the recent change in law that prevents police from pursuing a suspect unless the authorities have probable cause.

Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, believes we must pass legislation that improves Washington’s police-pursuit law after the results of Democratic legislation passed two years ago have proven to be a threat to public safety. He is skeptical about the value of partisan legislation currently being considered that would punt the public-safety issue to an unelected state commission, unlike the clear solution found in other legislation sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans.

Both sides have presented statistics they say supports their argument on whether to change the law to allow police to pursue based on reasonable suspicion. The data provided by Democrats, however, has come under stiff scrutiny by an independent review commissioned by a member of the House of Representatives. And it was found wanting.

Professor Matthew J. Hickman, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, Criminology & Forensics at Seattle University wrote, If this analysis was submitted for peer-review, it would be summarily rejected as it does not satisfy threshold criteria for quantitative scientific work.  The analysis should be disregarded in its entirety and should not be used to inform legislative decision-making.”

Sen. John Braun provide the following statement to clarify confusion surrounding the use of the data:

“The chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee refuses to give most of the police pursuit reform bills a hearing, citing a study that claims there has been a 73% reduction in deaths resulting from current law. However, that study has been debunked by a third-party statistician who specializes in data about law enforcement and crime. He says the study should be entirely disregarded.

“Alternatively, we have reliable statistics showing a dire need for pursuit reform. According to the King County Sheriff’s Office, there were 518 incidents in 2022 of suspects eluding police without pursuit in King County alone. That’s almost three times the number of incidents recorded only two years earlier. We are seeing similar results in other counties.

“At some point, you need to look at the hard numbers and let common sense be your guide. Those numbers show that the need for police pursuits is growing as the ability of law enforcement to pursue has been severely restricted. Common sense says that this is because criminals are emboldened by the current law, rather than deterred by it. Crime is increasing because, in the minds of criminals, they have a better chance of evading capture.

“How many more people have been victimized because current law sends a permissive message to criminals? Senate Bill 5352, which would allow police to pursue a suspect based on reasonable suspicion would help correct this. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that Senate Bill 5533 will get a hearing because that bill would take the issue out of the hands of the Legislature and subject it to agency rulemaking by the Criminal Justice Training Commission. It would allow Democrats to avoid accountability by making it the CJTC’s problem. The Legislature should fix its own mistakes.”