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Bipartisan effort supports bill refining police pursuit guidelines

by REBECCA PETTINGILL
Staff Writer | January 17, 2023 5:19 PM

OLYMPIA - A bill amending the requirements for law enforcement to conduct a vehicular pursuit has received bipartisan support in both the Washington House and Senate. House Bill 1363 and Senate Bill 5352, which echoes the House bill, are being considered in Olympia.

“I haven’t read (HB1363/SB5352) but I would welcome any lightening of the restrictions,” said Othello Police Department Chief Phil Schenck.

HB 1363 and companion Senate Bill 5352 seek to amend Revised Code of Washington 10.116.060 relating to vehicular pursuits. The changes to the RCW include verbiage changes, removal of subsections and adding new subsections with the goal of empowering officers to enforce the law while still limiting law enforcement overreach. SB 5352l was introduced to the Senate on Jan. 13 and referred to the Law & Justice Committee. HB 1363 was introduced to the House on Jan. 16 and referred to the Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee.

One change is that officers would not need authorization from a supervisor to conduct a pursuit, but rather would be required to notify the supervisor of the vehicle pursuit immediately.

Schenck said pursuits are already very rare, so restricting the ability to pursue was a hindrance to situations where it may have been appropriate but did not fit under the guise of a violent crime.

The bill removes the subsection of the RCW requiring probable cause related to violent or sexual offenses, or driving under the influence. It further changed the requirements to conduct a pursuit to a reasonable suspicion a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a criminal offense.

“What has to happen is we have to weigh the risk because we don't want to hurt somebody or risk hurting somebody for a stupid reason,” Schenck said.

Legislators said they want to allow officers to use their judgment in some situations using guidelines in the law.

“A one-size-fits-all pursuit policy simply does not work for every community in our state, and this bill will allow police agencies to set their own pursuit policies,” said Representative Alicia Rule (D–Blaine), one of the primary sponsors of the bill.

Local legislators in support of the bill include Representative Tom Dent (R-Moses Lake) and Senator Judy Warnick (R-Moses Lake).

As of Jan, 17, there were no upcoming meetings scheduled for either the senate or the house version of the bill.

Eric Robertson (R–Sumner) was the other primary sponsor of the bill. Robertson is a retired Washington State Patrol trooper who has been personally involved in vehicle pursuits.

“I've made the decision to safely conduct a pursuit against someone violating the law, and I’ve also made the decision to end a pursuit out of safety concerns for myself, the traveling public, and our communities. Law enforcement professionals depend on this discretion in split-second decisions,” said Robertson.

For the full text of the bill, visit bit.ly/3iK5dhM.

Rebecca Pettingill may be reached at rpettingill@columbiabasinherald.com.

Pursuit changes of note: A subsection requiring probable cause related to violent or sexual offenses, or driving under the influence was removed.

Probable cause was changed to a reasonable suspicion a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a criminal offense.

Language requiring supervisor authorization for pursuits would be changed to require officers notify supervisors of pursuits immediately.

Officers will be required to plan for completing the pursuit as soon as possible once it begins.

Officers involved in a pursuit must have completed an emergency vehicle operator’s course and be current in renewing that training and be certified in at least one pursuit intervention option.

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