Washington lawmakers approaching deadline on bill to change police vehicle pursuit laws

A proposal that could repeal restrictions on police vehicle pursuits in Washington is nearing its last rounds in legislation.

House Bill 1363 is scheduled for executive session Thursday in the House Committee on Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry. The bill has to pass Thursday’s vote out of committee and then be read into the record on the floor in order to meet deadline for new legislation.

Last year in Covington, there were more than 60 incidents where officers could not chase down possible suspects in their getaway cars. That’s a lot for such a small town, according to Police Chief Adam Easterbrook. He said his officers can’t pursue suspected criminals because state laws don’t allow it.

"Those decisions have consequences, for us and for the public. And if legislature wants to ignore the police pursuit problem, then we probably may have the same issues we’ve been having, which I don’t think a lot of people are satisfied with. And I think we have had some extra violent crime because of those decisions," said Easterbrook.

The proposed bill would loosen the current rules that restrict pursuits to crimes involving violence, sex, or drunk drivers—and only when police have proof a crime has occurred. 

Covington city leaders said they support a change in policy to help improve public safety.

"The reasonable suspicion standard is something that we feel that our officers [have] in their tool kit, so that they can respond when they need to, as opposed to trying to develop some higher threshold where they’re just not able to do that in a pursuit situation," said Regan Bolli, Covington City Manager. 

City leaders are in Olympia Wednesday and Thursday meeting with state lawmakers as part of their annual City Action Days at the Capitol. Bolli said this two-day visit is their opportunity to educate legislators on the city’s 2023 Legislative Priorities that could improve the community. This includes a pedestrian bridge on State Route 516.

The city manager said public safety is always priority, and addressing the current pursuit laws is essential.

"To provide the tools that our officers need to really help them do their job in a safe way, and in a way that provides safety for all of us," said Bolli.

House Bill 1363 would not be a return to the old rules entirely. It calls for extra training to qualify officers to initiate pursuits, extra communication with local law enforcement during the chase to keep bystanders out of harm's way, and extra emphasis on ending the pursuit by stopping the suspect as soon as possible.

"We have to be the ones that implement change when we don’t necessarily have good guidance. So, if we have clear guidance from the state legislature, it’s much easier to do our job because we know we can do that or we can either do that," said Easterbrook. "We can’t have this absolute lawlessness on the streets."