(The Center Square) – Washington State Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, on Monday explained her reluctance to move full speed ahead on legislation that would make it easier for police officers to engage in vehicular pursuits.
Last week, Dhingra, chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, said she doesn’t plan to let the legislation be heard, which would kill it.
House Bill 1363, introduced by Rep. Alicia Rule, D-Blaine, and Rep. Eric Robertson, R-Sumner, would restore the reasonable suspicion threshold for allowing police to pursue drivers they believe have committed crimes. It would roll back House Bill 1054 – passed and signed into law in 2021 – that upped the threshold to probable cause.
Companion Senate Bill 5352, sponsored by Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, and featuring several co-signers from both parties, has also been introduced.
“And so it really is how you balance property versus protecting innocent Washingtonians who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Dhingra said at a press conference on the current legislative session.
The senator referred to an analysis by Dr. Martina Morris, a retired professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington, that showed only three people have died in police pursuits in Washington in the year-and-a-half since HB 1054 was implemented – as opposed to 11 in the same time period before the law took effect, a reduction of 73%.
Dhingra also acknowledged the increase in vehicle thefts and people fleeing police in the aftermath of the law.
Last year between Jan. 1 and May 17, 934 people on the state’s highways kept going when troopers tried to pull them over for a traffic stop, according to the Washington State Patrol.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs put out a statement last April saying vehicle thefts had increased 93% since HB 1054 and other police reform laws went into effect.
Dhingra said part of the equation is missing in deciding best how best to proceed on the police pursuit issue.
“So, the other data point that I have asked for and have not received is how many of those individuals are actually caught?” Dhingra asked rhetorically. “Couple hours later? The next day? Or a few days later? And they have not been able to show me that information.”
While she hasn’t gotten specific answers so far, she said that many police officers have told her it’s often the case those fleeing police are caught shortly afterward.
She pointed out those trying to get away from police are only exacerbating their legal problems.
“And I would like to say that anyone who absconds is actually racking up additional felony charges of felony attempting to elude,” Dhingra explained. “So that’s where the data is incomplete. And we need more information to fully understand this data.”
She went on to say, “There is no consensus on what that balance is, and this is what the Legislature has to make a determination of, that balancing act. And I will tell you, protecting innocent Washingtonians is always going to be a very high priority.”
However, Dhingra seemed to soften her stance regarding giving the legislation a hearing before the Law & Justice Committee.
“We are going to have hearing on Sen. Lovick’s bill, and all comments will be welcome on that bill,” she said.