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In reversal, more areas allow high-speed police chases

Amanda Hernández, on

Published in News & Features

Although Washington state’s revised pursuit policy offers greater flexibility in initiating chases, it still requires officers to determine that the potential danger to the public from letting the suspect go outweighs the risks of the chase itself.

The fleeing driver must be considered “a threat to the safety of others,” which is a lower standard than what’s outlined under the state’s current policy. The policy currently requires that the suspect must pose a “serious risk of harm to others.”

Until the new law takes effect, police chases are only allowed for certain crimes, including violent offenses, sex offenses, driving under the influence and escaping from prison or jail. Pursuits for lower-level crimes, such as property theft, are banned.

Following calls for increased police accountability, Washington state enacted its current law in 2021, about a year after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and amended it last year. Some police agencies and state legislators argued that the restrictions hampered officers’ ability to fight crime.

“It wasn’t great policy, kind of a knee-jerk reaction,” Wagoner said. “The bad guys were waiting at the starting line and there was a starting gun, and auto theft just skyrocketed and crimes associated with that took off.”

In 2022, the number of reported motor vehicle thefts jumped by more than a third over the previous year, according to the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ annual crime reports. The Evergreen State had one of the highest rates of motor vehicle thefts in 2022 compared with other states, according to FBI crime data, a consistent trend since at least 1997.


Still, crime data is notoriously difficult to track and understand, and experts say anecdotal evidence on social media can heavily influence public perceptions of safety and crime.

Washington state Rep. Roger Goodman, a Democrat who chairs the House Community Safety, Justice, and Reentry Committee, voted for the measure, but is concerned that lowering the standard may lead to more injuries and fatalities from traffic accidents.

“I’m holding my breath and fervently hoping that police will use their discretion responsibly and will call the pursuit off if it truly is more dangerous than the risk of not apprehending the person,” Goodman said in an interview.

Some opponents of the revised policy argue that more chases could also lead to increased property damage and prove very costly for local governments responsible for settling claims and covering legal expenses.


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