Republican Leader John Braun Calls Democrat-Sponsored Police Pursuit Bill a Half-Step


In a statement released last Wednesday, state Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, on Senate Bill 5352, which amends a law passed in 2021 to grant law enforcement a greater ability to engage in police pursuits. 

The bill passed the state Senate by a vote of 26 to 23 on the day of a key deadline with Braun voting against it. 

“For the past two years, Senate Republicans have worked to restore the ability of police to use their judgment when deciding to engage in pursuits. We almost succeeded in 2022, but this session the majority had kept SB 5232 and other worthwhile proposals bottled up. For that reason, I appreciate that the majority leaders changed course and agreed with us on bringing a pursuit-reform bill to the Senate floor, so we could have an open debate,” Braun said. “Unfortunately, this bill as passed would only move our state a half-step in the right direction.”

According to Braun, Republicans in the state Senate proposed amendments to allow police pursuits in cases where there is reasonable suspicion of vehicle theft or reckless driving but those were voted down by Senate Democrats. Some of the Democrats in the state Senate argued police pursuits should be more restricted on the grounds a choice needs to be made between protecting life or protecting property, which Braun referred to as a “false choice.”

“That is a false choice. I believe our law-enforcement officers are trained and capable of making good choices regarding pursuits and should be trusted to do so. By rejecting our amendments, the majority showed its lack of trust in police,” Braun said. 

Braun argued SB 5352 is “not nearly sufficient to address lawlessness,” though he says he realizes his Democratic colleagues can now claim to have taken action on the police pursuit issue. Claiming people will find laws they can break without being pursued, Braun argued vehicle owners will continue to suffer and business owners will continue to have stolen vehicles rammed into their stores.

“I don’t believe this is the policy the people of Washington deserve, which is why I voted no. Some of my Republican colleagues took the position that a half step is better than none, and voted in support. I respect their choice — that’s part of trusting the process and letting democracy work,” Braun said. “Either way, Republicans will keep trying to fix the mistakes made two years ago. We must do better.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Jeff Wilson, R-Longview, was one of several senate Republicans who voted for SB 5352. In a statement, Wilson said while he wishes the bill had given more leniency to police, the proposal was better than no change at all. 

“I was hoping for a better blue-and-red bipartisan outcome. … 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,” Wilson said. “But the alternative was even worse. Our current law is a disaster, and even a half-solution is better than no solution.”

According to Wilson’s statement, law enforcement officers in Washington historically follow national norms, employing “reasonable suspicion” when determining whether to chase fleeing suspects. However, after the protests related to the murder of George Floyd, Democrats in the Legislature enacted more stringent limitations on police pursuits, permitting reasonable suspicion only when driving under the influence is suspected. Chases for other offenses would require “probable cause,” a much higher standard. Pursuits were banned entirely for property crimes and traffic offenses. 

Since changes were made to police pursuit laws, crime has significantly increased, something Wilson attributes to the public gaining a greater understanding of the new restrictions. 

Wilson also argued the restrictions have had tragic results, pointing to an accident last week in Eastern Washington in which multiple police agencies were prevented from pursuing a speeding driver recorded at 111 miles per hour. The speeding driver eventually got on Interstate 82 in Sunnyside, going in the wrong direction and striking another vehicle head on. Because of the accident, a 6-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl were killed.

“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.”

SB 5352 now goes to the state House for consideration.