Renton Police Department officers Sgt C. Jacobs, Sgt. C. Johnson, Traffic Officer C. Catalan, and Traffic Officer M. Nugent in front of a police vehicle. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rutledge

Renton Police Department officers Sgt C. Jacobs, Sgt. C. Johnson, Traffic Officer C. Catalan, and Traffic Officer M. Nugent in front of a police vehicle. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rutledge

New pursuit law allows more flexibility for Renton police

Deputy Chief Ryan Rutledge speaks on the law’s implementation.

New amendments to Washington state legislation allow police officers to engage in a pursuit if there is reasonable suspicion someone has violated a law.

Prior legislation under the revised code of Washington (RCW 10.116.060) stated that a peace officer may not engage in a vehicular pursuit unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person in the vehicle has committed or is committing a violent offense; a sex offense; a vehicular assault offense; an assault in the first, second, third, or fourth-degree offense only if the assault involves domestic violence; an escape; or a driving under the influence.

New legislation under Initiative 2113 states that a peace officer may not engage in a vehicular pursuit unless there is reasonable suspicion a person has violated the law, broadening a police officer’s ability to pursue a suspect.

Deputy Chief Ryan Rutledge said the Renton Police Department will still be selective about when officers engage in a pursuit. Rutledge said whether their officers engage in a pursuit depends on what best benefits public safety.

“There’s a lot of other regulations and restrictions that are set in the law, but in a sense, if a person has violated the law, police are authorized to pursue,” Rutledge said. “But then there’s many layers in there of oversight where just because you can pursue, you have to weigh a lot of different things there — the risk to the public, the crime’s severity, and supervisor oversight during the entire pursuit. And then, just like I said, weighing those options of the risk to the public, the hours of the day, the traffic volumes, the weather, items like that.”

Rutledge said that the vehicular pursuit law has changed three times over the last three years, which has created some challenges. Specifically, the law has required new officer training, updating policy, meeting with legal advisors, ensuring everything is clear, and ensuring everyone is practicing under policy and state law. Rutledge said that all of the new procedures can be a challenge when new legislation is enacted.

“Just because we can pursue doesn’t mean that we will. That would be a message from the administration and just a message to our community that we want the public to be safe,” Rutledge said. “And so that’s the message to our officers, that, you know, we’re trusting them to make that decision. And then their first-level supervisors, who are listening in to every pursuit [or the officer], either one can stop a pursuit at any time. And so to train, that is very important to us.”

Rutledge said now they can build in variables to decide whether they will pursue. For example, if police see that the person or the vehicle has fled from police several times or is committing multiple crimes over a couple of days, he said if they can link that suspect to a smash-and-grab, now they have the ability to pursue that person, where before they could not.

In another example, Rutledge said there could be a situation where a crime occurs in the middle of the night, and there is nearly no traffic on the street, a supervisor will weigh out whether to pursue. But if there was a situation where there was a lot of traffic and a pursuit could endanger people, then they would most likely not pursue it, he said.

For example, Rutledge said if someone committed a property crime such as a commercial burglary, there are many factors as to whether they will pursue them. He said if a suspect is not identified or the suspect’s driving is dangerous to the public, that may escalate the situation to pursuit. But if there is a lot of traffic on the streets, in which a pursuit could endanger the public, they would most likely decide not to pursue. In that situation, where they chose not to pursue it, Rutledge said they would utilize their investigative and follow-up abilities to catch the suspect another day.

“We have to do certain levels, but more of the crimes to people, like maybe an order violation, you know, drive-by shootings, assaults, murders, robberies, those more serious cases, those are going to be much higher on our pursuit radar,” Rutledge said. “Those, like I mentioned a minute ago, the property crimes, maybe some lower level assaults, maybe some hit and runs, things like that, we may [pursue] in some cases, but not in all cases.”

Rutledge said in addition to the new legislation telling the community that they value accountability, the new pursuit policy also shows criminals that legislators value accountability. He said if offenders want to victimize the community, officers now have the ability to pursue those offenders and hold them accountable.

“Being a victim can be a traumatic experience or just feeling violated from whatever that crime is that you’re a victim of, and I’m not advocating for just throwing somebody in jail and locking them up and throwing away the key is the right answer. But there has to be some deterrent there and then some way to correct the behavior. I don’t have all the right answers, and really, police don’t have all the right answers,” Rutledge said. “But if there’s resources and programs within the criminal justice system, so when somebody maybe is on a reasonable, realistic conviction or sentencing and serving time, there are legitimate, realistic, responsible programs for offenders to improve their life and change the pattern of behavior where they victimized the community, to give back to the community, be a positive influence in the community. That’s what we advocate here for at the Renton PD.”

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