Stolen vehicle crashes on Interstate 405

The Washington State Senate recently passed a bill lowering thresholds for police to engage in vehicular pursuits.

A stolen vehicle crashed on southbound Interstate 405 and 44th from Bellevue to Renton on April 18.

According to the Washington State Patrol, a Bellevue Police Department officer attempted to stop the vehicle for not having license plates, resulting in the vehicle fleeing with no police pursuit initiated. The officer continued southbound and arrived at the crashed stolen vehicle as the suspect exited the vehicle.

According to the Washington State Patrol, following an altercation, police arrested the suspect.

The incident occurred one day after the Washington State Senate passed a bill on April 17 lowering thresholds for police to engage in vehicular pursuits.

The bill adjusts thresholds raised in 2021 after Gov. Jay Inslee signed a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill into legislation that established new restrictions and requirements for law enforcement tactics and equipment.

Current legislation from House Bill 1054 prevents law enforcement from engaging in a vehicular pursuit unless they have probable cause regarding a violent offense, sex offense or escape from custody; reasonable suspicion for a suspect driving under the influence; the pursuit serves as necessary for the pursuit or apprehension of a suspect; the suspect poses an imminent risk to public safety; or the pursuing officer receives authorization from a supervising officer with supervisory control of the pursuit.

Senate Bill 5352, heading to Inslee’s desk, lowers the threshold for pursuit of violent offenses, sex offenses or escapes to reasonable suspicion, with the addition of offenses including vehicular assault and assault in the first through fourth degrees.

SB5352 also removes the requirement for reasonable suspicion to initiate pursuit in regards to DUIs, lowers the threshold from an imminent risk to serious risk to public safety, and the threshold from supervisory authorization to notification from pursuing officer to supervisor.

According to Chelsea Hodgson, a public information officer for the Washington State Patrol, the Washington State Patrol serves as an apolitical agency.

“We can assure we will apply any and all laws as they are written,” Hodgson said.

Perspectives in Renton

Chief Jon Schuldt of the Renton Police Department provided a statement to the Renton Reporter regarding his perspective on SB5352.

“We are appreciative of the work that the State Legislator have done this session in correcting prior legislation in regard to police pursuits. I feel that Senate Bill 5352 is a start in the right direction.

Every law enforcement officer understands the inherent risk involved when initiating a pursuit of a suspect. Since the passage of House Bill 1054 in 2021, we have experienced a dramatic increase in violators fleeing from lawful stops for violations running the gamut from traffic stops to any number of felony violations. The Renton Police Department, like most police departments, have policy in place that governs officers when engaged in pursuits, these are low frequency, high liability incidents where risk versus reward is prudently weighed. Unfortunately, I have seen first-hand that criminals understand the officers’ restrictions all too well and have been taking great advantage since this bill was passed.

SB 5352 does not fill all the gaps, it still is restrictive based on the crime involved, and shows that broad brush policy doesn’t fit all communities. I look forward to continuing the conversation and moving future legislation forward with our elected officials to return discretion and decision making back to jurisdictions and those they protect.”

Chair of the Public Safety Committee and councilmember Kim-Khanh Van expressed concerns regarding the lowering of thresholds, though she saw the bill as generally a step in the right direction.

“As an attorney, it is a concern. As a person of color, it is a concern,” Van said. “… We hear loud and clear the concern of our communities, … particularly the relationship with police and the BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) community and marginalized communities.”

She said the 26-22 vote that passed SB3532 through the Senate demonstrated the mixed feelings communities have regarding the bill.

Van said she wanted to explore technologies to potentially provide alternatives to police pursuit.

She said she believes SB3532 serves as a step in the right direction as the bill addresses concerns Renton police have expressed to the council.

She hopes the bill opens up further conversation regarding policing and police pursuit within the community.

“As a Councilmember and Chair of the Public Safety Committee, I am focused on keeping every neighbor safe,” Van said.