Wilson votes for bill partially restoring police pursuits, but says it falls short

Senator votes yes because keeping current restrictions is worse

OLYMPIA – Sen. Jeff Wilson joined the Senate Wednesday in voting for a bill that partially restores the ability of police to pursue fleeing suspects, but called Senate Bill 5352 a half-step toward the full restoration of police powers Washington state requires.

The bill passed by a narrow 26-23 vote following discussions between majority Democrats and minority Republicans. Wilson, R-Longview, was among Republicans who said they voted yes because they had to. Without Republican votes, the bill could not have passed. The measure now moves to the House for further consideration.

“I was hoping for a better blue-and-red bipartisan outcome,” Wilson said. “I was hoping for a display of blue-and-red lights, to send a message to lawbreakers, ‘we can pursue you.’ The bill today didn’t go far enough, and I’m afraid we gave a green light to those who would steal a car or drive recklessly.

“But the alternative was even worse. Our current law is a disaster, and even a half-solution is better than no solution.”

Senate Bill 5352 goes only partway to restoring the police pursuits that have been largely banned in Washington state since 2021. It allows police to use reasonable suspicion in pursuits for sex offenses, vehicular assaults, assaults involving domestic violence, an escape or DUI.  But it does not restore pursuits for reckless driving, vehicle theft or other non-violent offenses.

Police in Washington used to follow national norms, employing “reasonable suspicion” in determining whether to chase fleeing suspects. But in the wake of the George Floyd riots, majority Democrats voted for severe restrictions, permitting “reasonable suspicion” only when driving under the influence was suspected. Chases for violent offenses, sex offenses, and escape required “probable cause,” a much higher standard. For property crimes and traffic offenses, pursuits were banned altogether.

Since then crime has taken off. The Washington State Patrol reports that auto thefts have increased 50 percent, from about 30,000 a year to 45,000. The number of cases that would have justified pursuit under the old law have increased from 1,100 a year to 3,100 annually, the patrol says, as criminals gained a greater understanding of the new restrictions.

The restrictions have sometimes had a tragic result, as last week in Eastern Washington, when multiple police agencies were prevented from pursuing a speeding driver clocked at 111 mph and more. Eventually he got on I-82 in Sunnyside going the wrong direction and plowed into another vehicle head-on, killing a 6-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl.

“As we debated the bill today, I couldn’t help thinking about the two kids who were killed, Timothy Escamilla and Delilah Minshew,” Wilson said. “Those of us who serve in the Legislature should remember their names.”