Seattle legislator’s comments sharply contradict evidence that fatalities related to police pursuits are a statistically insignificant percentage of total traffic deaths in Washington
The Center Square Washington
At a recent 36th Legislative District virtual town hall, Rep. Julia Reed, D-Seattle, decried ongoing efforts to pass legislation to give police in Washington state more discretion in engaging in vehicular pursuits.
The issue has been a hot topic this legislative session, given the increase in auto thefts and drivers refusing to stop for police since House Bill 1054 was passed by the Legislature in 2021 and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee. HB 1054 upped the threshold for police to engage in vehicle chases to probable cause from reasonable suspicion.
At the virtual town hall – which also included Sen. Noel Frame, D-Seattle, and Rep. Liz Berry, D-Seattle – Reed said she feels “like a lot of the conversation around police pursuits has gotten wrapped up in this massive misinformation campaign, and not only is continuing that campaign a top priority for Republicans, but I see so many of my Democratic colleagues buying into it, and that’s been really quite personally painful for me.”
Earlier this month, Engrossed Senate Bill 5352 unexpectedly passed the Senate when Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, chair of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, offered up the amended bill after having previously stated she would not hear the bill in her committee.
ESB 5352 would let police pursue if they have reasonable suspicion that a person in the fleeing vehicle has committed or is committing a violent crime, a sex offense, a vehicular assault, domestic violence, an escape, or driving under the influence. Amendments to the bill call for extra training and communication with local law enforcement during chases to protect bystanders.
A similar piece of legislation, Substitute House Bill 1363, had been making its way through the House but did not receive a floor vote count before the cut-off deadline to get a bill out of its chamber of origin.
“Basically the line people want you to believe is that the reason crime is up is because of all these woke policies, because we listen too much to the Black Lives Matter people, and now look where we’ve gotten,” Reed continued. “We’ve got to, like, change and make sure police have unlimited ability to act in any way that they see fit, and it’s just been really frustrating.”
She expressed her support for HB 1054.
The reason it passed is because “people were being killed by high-speed police chases that were in most cases ending up in accidents more than they were ending up in arrests.”
As The Center Square reported earlier this month, fatalities related to police pursuits are a statistically insignificant percentage of total traffic deaths in the state. According to data from the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission, there were 28 police vehicular pursuit fatalities between 2015-2021, including 19 drivers and four pedestrians.
“The fact of the matter is the existing law does allow police to continue to do high-speed pursuits in the event of serious crime, which I think is something that we support,” Reed said, noting that some jurisdictions have vehicular pursuit rules more stringent than state requirements and do things like use GPS trackers and air support in lieu of dangerous high-speed chases.
Earlier this month, Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, blamed the publicity surrounding HB 1054 for increasing numbers of people fleeing the police.
“The problem now is the bill passed and everyone found out,” Mullet told The Center Square.
The Washington State Patrol reports more than 3,100 vehicles just drove away from troopers attempting to pull them over once the restrictions under HB 1054 began in mid-2021.
Frame indicated her support for Reed’s position, noting she was a “very loud no vote” on ESB 5352, while Berry slightly nodded in apparent agreement.
Republican leadership was not pleased with Reed’s take on the issue.
“First of all, I think most of the major newspapers in the state of Washington will be surprised to find out they’re part of the Republican disinformation machine, since most of them have expressed support for modifying the pursuit laws,” Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, told The Center Square.
The House Republican leader continued, “The other thing I would say is probably that statement would be classified as impugning. And we’ve had a real problem getting Democrats to openly debate it on the floor, and I hope that the good representative, if those are the opinions that she has, will express them on the floor of the House so we can actually debate these things rather than just throwing them out in a friendly crowd.”
Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, echoed those comments in an email.
“Democrats who support pursuit reform were not tricked,” the Senate Republican leader said. “Like us, they are listening to the people who are tired of the lawlessness in our communities and are doing their jobs as public servants. Even Gov. Inslee supports rolling back the standard for pursuit to ‘reasonable suspicion’ and has said he will sign a bill doing just that if one makes it to his desk. The ball is in the House Democrats’ court.
He concluded, “Speaker Jinkins should allow Senate Bill 5352 to receive a hearing. House members should get the opportunity to debate the bill and vote on it. Not to allow the democratic process to continue on this issue would be to subvert it to a narrow and dangerous ideology.”
This report was first published by The Center Square Washington.
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