- Jan 19, 2019
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New State Laws Starting Today Will Prevent WA Cops From Pursuing Most Suspects
July 25, 2021
Olympia, WA – Law enforcement leaders have repeatedly warned citizens that things will not be business-as-usual for officers in the state after a slew of police reforms laws went into effect on Sunday that prevent police from chasing violent crime suspects and assisting with mental health calls.
Sheriffs and police chiefs from numerous agencies and jurisdictions across the state released statements in days leading up to July 25 when Washington House Bills 1054 and 1310, and Senate Bill 5476, went into effect, KING reported.
Officials wanted their community members to understand why officers wouldn’t be doing some basic things that they’ve been seen doing in the past, such as chasing bad guys or arresting people who are openly using illegal drugs in public.
The key part of this legislation is the state has moved the legal bar to pursue for a violent offense to ‘probable cause’ rather than ‘reasonable suspicion,’” Sheriff Fortney explained. “For example, if a deputy sheriff was to respond to an armed robbery and the suspect vehicle was described as a blue F150 and a deputy saw a blue F150 driving at a high rate of speed in the same area as the robbery occurred, a law enforcement officer could still try to make a traffic stop this vehicle, however if the suspect vehicle decides to flee we can no longer pursue it under House Bill 1054.”
He said that under the new law, officers can’t pursue suspected violent offenders who have just committed an armed robbery until they take the time to first establish probable cause. For example, they may need to first contact the victim or a witness and confirm exactly what crime has been committed and what specific person is responsible in order to establish probable cause prior to engaging in the vehicle pursuit.
“While this may seem like a small detail, it will have substantial impacts on the ability for law enforcement officers to pursue vehicles fleeing from the scene of a crime,” the sheriff wrote. “Oftentimes, it is simply impossible to have all of this figured out while responding to a call and coming across a suspect vehicle fleeing.”
And under HB 1310, the new use-of-force law, law enforcement officers cannot detain possible suspects they see fleeing the area of a crime unless they have confirmed that the crime occurred and they know that the person fleeing is the actual suspected offender.
“For example, under the current law, if a man was to break into your house while you were inside, you confront him and he runs away, and you call 911 to provide a description of the suspect as ‘a white male, in his 30s, wearing a red shirt and black shorts, leaving on foot,’” “It has always been considered reasonable that if a law enforcement officer arrived in the area and saw a suspect matching this description, that we had the legal authority to stop him and if he ran, we were allowed to use reasonable force to chase and detain him. This would be allowed under the current ‘reasonable suspicion’ threshold,” he wrote. “Under HB 1310, this is no longer allowed.”
“That means we can no longer stop and detain a fleeing suspect matching a description who is running from the area of a crime that just occurred,”