OLYMPIA — Police in Washington state would gain more leeway to pursue suspected criminals under an initiative supporters delivered to the Secretary of State’s Office.
The proposed ballot measure, Initiative 2113, would erase requirements in state law barring an officer from initiating a chase unless police suspect a person has or is committing certain crimes, such as a violent offense or driving while intoxicated.
Initiative supporters, who delivered signatures for the measure on Thursday, say those restrictions have emboldened criminals to flee authorities — in some cases, with deadly consequences.
“Police were only able to watch as the man who would strike my daughter in a stolen truck sped away,” said Amber Goldade, whose daughter Immaculee was killed by a man driving a stolen truck in Pierce County in 2022.
“They could have stopped him long before he got behind the wheel that day if our laws hadn’t handcuffed the police response to his crimes,” she said in a statement. “I’m fighting to stop this happening to more families.”
State Rep. Jim Walsh of Aberdeen, who also chairs the Washington State Republican Party, is the prime sponsor of this initiative and five others circulated this year by Let’s Go Washington.
So far, supporters have turned in three of the measures.
In November, the group submitted signatures for Initiative 2117 to repeal the Climate Commitment Act and on Monday they delivered petitions for Initiative 2081 to codify a “parents’ bill of rights.”
On Thursday, initiative backers handed in petitions that they said bear 410,518 signatures.
In a statement, the founder of Let’s Go Washington said communities are experiencing rising crime while lawmakers tell residents not to believe their eyes.
“Local police, mayors and city councils should not be stuck with a one-size-fits-all policy that keeps police from doing their job,” said Brian Heywood, a hedge fund manager who’s shelled out more than $5 million on gathering signatures for the six initiatives.
Curtailing potentially deadly high-speed chases gained momentum in Washington in 2021. Democrats used their majorities in the House and Senate to push through several laws tightening guidelines for law enforcement amid a national debate on policing practices spurred by the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota in 2020.
Changing the rules for pursuits was part of a broader bill dealing with tactics and equipment used by law enforcement officers. This legislation, for example, barred use of chokeholds and “no-knock” warrants, and it restricted deployment of tear gas.
The bill limited vehicular pursuits to when officers had probable cause that a person in a vehicle committed a violent offense, a sex offense, domestic violence-related offenses, driving under the influence of alcohol or trying to escape arrest. As intended, that higher bar led to cops undertaking fewer pursuits.
Civic leaders and law enforcement officials said it also resulted in criminals becoming more brazen, knowing police could not pursue them. They pushed for easing the rules so police could go after more suspected wrongdoers.
Majority Democrats responded near the end of this year’s session by amending the law to replace probable cause with the less-rigorous reasonable suspicion standard. They left the remainder of the law intact.
Initiative 2113 would eliminate the restrictions and allow vehicular pursuits if “there is reasonable suspicion a person has violated the law.”
To be certified, Initiative 2113 petitions must contain the signatures of at least 324,516 registered voters. State election officials recommend initiative sponsors submit at least 405,000 signatures to account for any found to be invalid.
The process of certifying valid signatures will begin after the Dec. 29 deadline for filing initiatives to the Legislature.
Because it is an initiative to the Legislature, if it has the requisite number of signatures, it will first be sent to lawmakers, who can adopt it as written in the 2024 session. They also can reject or refuse to act on it, in which case it will go on the November 2024 ballot.
Lawmakers can approve an alternative measure to be placed on the ballot alongside the initiative if they want, as well.
Jerry Cornfield writes for the Washington State Standard (https://washingtonstatestandard.com), an independent, nonprofit news organization that produces original reporting on policy and politics.