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Seattle police unable to engage in pursuits unless they undergo specific training

File - A photo showing a Seattle Police Department patrol vehicle. (KOMO News)
File - A photo showing a Seattle Police Department patrol vehicle. (KOMO News)
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As of Wednesday, no Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer is allowed to engage in a pursuit unless the officer has been trained in an emergency vehicle operator course (EVOC) or Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT) while employed by SPD, according to a source within the SPD.

Any pursuit must also meet all current requirements listed in the department's policy, according to a source within the SPD.

SPD provided KOMO News with a statement that can be read below:

With the passing of the Washington State Senate Bill 5352, the Seattle Police Department is complying with the new legislative restrictions while working to better understand them. SPD is conferring with other agencies, the Criminal Justice Training Commission, and the City Attorney’s Office to ensure that SPD’s pursuit policy remains consistent with all laws and that SPD officers have the training and tools they need to conduct pursuits under the new standards.

This news comes right after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee rolled back some requirements for police to chase people in vehicles, which is a partial reversal of a controversial pursuit policy first enacted in the state at the height of racial injustice protests following George Floyd’s murder.

Under the new state law, police no longer need probable cause to initiate a pursuit. Instead, reasonable suspicion that a person inside a vehicle has committed or is committing a violent or sexual crime, domestic assault, escape, or possible DUI would be enough to give chase. Pursuing officers must also have completed an emergency vehicle operators training course in the last two years and be certified in at least one pursuit intervention option.

SPD wouldn't say how many officers don't have the needed training, and right now, it's unclear how long it will take to get everyone trained.

"We can’t pursue right now," Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan said. "SWAT officers and K9 officers, roughly about 35 people have that specific training, but if you were to have to meet that requirement every two years, your entire department has emergency vehicle operations training, we currently don’t have that."

"That’s a serious problem for public safety and the citizens of Seattle," Solan added, "I’m kind of aghast as to why it was lapsed as to not seeing this come down the pipe, and now we’re scrambling."

As for how the new law might affect other agencies across the state, it varies.

"It really depends on agency to agency because a lot of agencies have pursuit policies that cover the vast majority of what the new law says already," Washington State Fraternal Order of Police President Marco Monteblanco said, "There might be some tweaks here, and there that need to happen, but overall, a lot of policies are covering it already."

Monteblanco went on to say while the new pursuit law doesn't include being able to pursue for things like property crimes, there are still significant changes to give law enforcement officers tools to keep the community safe.

The Criminal Justice Training Commission (CJTC) sent KOMO this statement on modifications to the current training:

"We are currently working on bringing the WSCJTC Basic Training Division Emergency Vehicle Operations Course into compliance with the recent changes to the law. The updates to the training curriculum should be completed and in effect very soon.

The WSCJTC EVOC is 40 hours, consisting of academic presentations, vehicle control training, vehicle backing skills and vehicle pursuits. Core components of de-escalation, critical decision making, mitigating risk to the public, and many other considerations are threaded throughout the WSCJTC EVOC 40 hour program."

A CJTC spokesperson went on to say the training does not address PIT or legal authority training for pursuits, as it is agency-specific training.

Historically in the state, police have been authorized to use force to briefly detain someone if they have reasonable suspicion — a commonsense notion based on specific facts — that someone might be involved in a crime.

Those seeking greater police accountability contended a decline in high-speed chases made communities safer, with fewer innocent bystanders being injured or killed.

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Crashes during law enforcement pursuits killed more than 7,000 people nationwide between 1996 and 2015, or 355 annually on average, according to the last comprehensive report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics on the issue.

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