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Gov. Inslee signs modified police pursuit reform bill into law

(The Center Square)Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday afternoon signed a bill that lowers the threshold for police officers to engage in high-speed pursuit of suspects.

Engrossed Senate Bill 5352 lowers the threshold for police pursuits from “probable cause” to “reasonable suspicion” in cases of those suspected of committing the most serious crimes, including a violent offense, a sex offense, vehicular assault, domestic violence-related offenses, driving under the influence, and trying to escape arrest. 

Other provisions of ESB 5352 require a pursuing officer in a jurisdiction with fewer than 15 commissioned officers to request the on-call supervisor be notified of the pursuit. It also requires officers to have training regarding whether it is safer to pursue a suspect or safer not to pursue a suspect.

Technical difficulties prevented TVW from broadcasting the bill signing live from the grand opening of a regional law enforcement training center in Pasco. 

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Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk confirmed Inslee signed the bill.

“He signed it at 2:50 p.m.,” he emailed The Center Square. “Local tv stations filmed it, too, and then he took Q&A with them.” 

Police pursuit reform legislation was a hot topic during the recently-concluded 105-day legislative session because of legislation passed a few years ago that increased the threshold for evidence required for a pursuit and limits to what types of crimes can trigger chases.

House Bill 1054, passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Inslee in 2021, limited police to engaging in a pursuit if there is “probable cause” to arrest a person in the vehicle for committing a specific violent crime or sex offense such as murder, kidnapping, drive-by shooting or rape.

Advocates of HB 1054 contend it has led to fewer deaths during police pursuits, while proponents of police pursuit reform counter that since the law went into effect on July 2021, the number of people failing to stop for police has spiked and auto thefts have increased.

Last month, the controversy surrounding the final version of ESB 5352 was reflected in the closeness of the vote in both chambers, with the Senate passing a House-amended bill on a 26-22 vote. The week prior, the bill passed the House on a 57-40 vote.

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