Washington May Have Less Police Chases Due to This New Law
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Washington state has enacted a new set of state laws just this week. They’re meant to reduce police brutality by holding officers more accountable. One of these laws will be decreasing the amount of police car chases.
Police need probable cause to start a chase in Washington.
New anti-police brutality laws
KING-TV reported on House Bill 1054 (HB1054). Among other restrictions, it limits vehicle pursuits to only when police officers have probable cause.
This means that no matter what time of day, if the officers don’t have probable cause, they can’t legally pursue a vehicle they suspect of containing a criminal.
Probable cause as the new standard is harder to meet. It means that there is enough evidence that a reasonable person would believe a crime was happening.
Before, officers could act upon reasonable suspicion, a lower evidentiary standard. If they had a “gut-feeling,” it was enough basis for a high-speed car chase.
Now, more investigation is required.
No more low-level crime car chases
Crosscut explained that under the new law, the only low-level crime that allows for a car chase is if the driver is suspected of drunk driving.
Otherwise, only probable cause of violent offenses warrants a car chase. Examples include kidnapping or a sex offense.
If officers suspect a driver of theft or property damage, they can’t pursue the fleeing vehicle by car.
High-speed chases, high-risk accidents
No matter what intention an officer has when pursuing a fleeing vehicle, a car chase is dangerous.
Hundreds of people die every year due to car chase collisions. This bill should prevent a meaningful amount of them.
Imagine an innocent driver on a trip with their family, and suddenly a car going twenty miles over the speed limit swerves into them, recklessly ignoring any road laws.
And then (if they’re still alive), they find out the grand reason for the chase was—a minor shoplifting offense.
HB1054 is enacted with the hopes of reducing car chase fatalities and injuries.
Of course, not every car chase ends in harm to the public. But at the end of the day, it’s important to put people’s lives first and evaluate which risks are and aren’t worth taking.
Police officers dissatisfied with the new bill
The law has been hit by substantial backlash from Washington officers. They’re expressing concern that this law will lead to dangerous suspects escaping.
Context is important, though.
This law doesn’t forbid all car chases. If there’s probable cause, which includes if the officer witnesses a violent crime, they’re free to pursue by car.
If the fleeing vehicle is suspected of a petty crime, is it really worth the risk of escalating it into a fatal car accident, potentially involving innocent bystanders?
Some officers are also protesting how the law will stop them from using their gut instinct in chases at all times.
Before, if it was rush hour, most officers would probably refrain from a car chase. But when it was 2 AM and they suspected someone of criminal activity, they would go for the car chase.
However, just because it’s 2 AM doesn’t mean initiating car chases is safe. Low visibility and high speeds can still cause fatalities and property damage.
Does insurance cover damages from car chases?
Fleeing suspects rarely have liability insurance. Even if they’re found at fault for harm that occurs during the chase, they may not be able to pay a dime.
That’s why it’s important for the side of the law to hold police officers accountable. We’ll see how the bill affects accident numbers in Washington.
If you’re in a state without a police accountability law, it can be extremely difficult to hold officers responsible for any damages either. It can be huge trouble to get a valid personal injury claim.
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