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Republicans, others lament ‘sham of a hearing’ on police pursuit initiative

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(The Center Square) – Proponents of Initiative 2113 to reduce requirements for law enforcement to engage in vehicle pursuits expressed frustration at how a Wednesday morning legislative public hearing on the initiative was conducted.

Testimony before both the Senate Law & Justice Committee and the House Community Safety, Justice & Reentry Committee did not begin until 30 minutes into the one-hour hearing due to majority party Democrats asking questions of committee staff members.

One of the questions asked of staff came from Rep. Tara Simmons, D-Bremerton, who suggested recent studies prove that when police pursuit restrictions are loosened, it increases racial profiling.

“That research showed black people are four times as likely to die in vehicle pursuits than white people,” she said.

The staff member said he didn’t know about the particular study she was citing, but added there is nothing in current law or the initiative that takes into account racial disparities in pursuit laws.

“This initiative is first and foremost to restore local jurisdiction over making rules about when police can pursue,” said Brain Heywood, head of the Let’s Go Washington voter advocacy group responsible for I-2113 and five other initiatives to the Legislature.

Heywood said what has happened with the current law is an increasing disregard for the law.

Under Washington’s previous pursuit law approved by the Legislature in 2021, police could only chase criminals in the most serious, violent circumstances. In May 2023, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law that let police officers initiate a pursuit if they have “reasonable suspicion” of a crime instead of “probable cause.”

“You get citizens that say if they won’t pursue a criminal who steals a car, then why should I obey the speed limit?” Heywood said.

Police are demoralized, according to Heywood, because they can’t do their job and protect the community.

Several police officers signed in to testify, but were never called up, including Thurston County Sheriff Derek Sanders, who spoke with The Center Square after the hearing.

“We’ve seen significant morale issues, and we’ve also just seen the [emboldened] criminal mentality grow at a cancerous rate,” he said.

Sanders said the criminals have zero respect for police officers and the law.

“They flip us off and run and tell us ‘I know you can’t chase me’,” he said. “It’s no secret our state laws have created this.”

Testifying in opposition to the measure was New York University Professor Josh Parker who told the committee via Zoom he has spent his career studying police pursuits.

Parker cited a recent nationwide study he participated in.

“Other than the PIT [precision immobilization technique] maneuver, there was consensus not to chase unless a criminal is suspected of a violent offense,” he explained.

When Milwaukee police loosened their restrictions on pursuits, Parker said, “It was basically a death sentence for people on the roads because police started chasing everything.”

The most emotional testimony came from the mother of a little girl who was killed in January 2022 by a speeding driver in a stolen car.

Amber Goldade of Tacoma urged lawmakers to pass the I-2113.

“My 12-year-old daughter Immaculee and her best friend Kathleen are victims of the no pursuit law,” she said. “The man who struck and killed my daughter from behind, and left Kathleen to die on the side of the road, was driving a stolen truck and high on meth. He was involved in a robbery two weeks prior. Police had him when he was fleeing, but could not pursue.”

Holding a picture of her daughter, Goldade added, “If they had been able to pursue, he most likely would have been in jail on Jan. 15, 2022, and my daughter would be alive and I wouldn’t be here.”

After Goldade finished her testimony, committee Chair Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, adjourned the meeting and audible gasps could be heard from several people in the audience who had hoped to have their chance to testify.

More than 5,300 people signed in supporting the initiative and 177 signed in against it.

Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, spoke to The Center Square post-hearing.

“This whole thing was staged, and then we finally got to hear from the public, and we go to remote testimony,” she said. “We’ve got a room full of people who drove from all over the place to be here, and we go to someone in New York City – that’s just not computing with me.”

Wilson concluded, “It was a sham of a hearing today and they didn’t want to hear from the people.”