(The Center Square) – In less than 2 months, law enforcement agencies across Washington state will have a new less restrictive set of rules when it comes to the pursuit of fleeing suspects.

The Washington Legislature recently loosened restrictions on law enforcement pursuits after more than 400,000 Washingtonians signed Initiative 2113.

The measure sought to overturn the state law preventing an officer from chasing a suspect unless they have “reasonable suspicion” a person has committed certain serious crimes.

Police agencies across the state have pleaded with lawmakers to loosen restrictions placed on law enforcement in the wake of reforms that followed the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the move to defund police.

It will now be up to individual agencies to set the policies and procedures for pursuits, just as it was before the 2021 restrictive legislation.

Steven Strachan with the Washington Association of Sheriff’s and Police Chiefs tells The Center Square the implementation of loosened restrictions won’t result in things being fixed overnight.

“It’s going to be a transition and the phrase I’ve been using is it’s going to take some time to put the toothpaste back in the tube.”

“We’ve all seen the unintended consequences of the law change in 2021 and the incredibly restrictive bright lines on police pursuits, which created a sense of impunity out there,” said Strachan.

“There’s been an exponential increase in the numbers of people choosing to drive away from lawful traffic stops and of course it’s one of many things that have led to the huge increase in auto theft.”

Strachan says the attitude of lawlessness from people who are choosing to flee isn’t going to be changed overnight.

“Anytime you’re talking about human behavior and decision making on the fly, that’s going to take time to change.”

Those who spoke against I-2113 argue innocent lives are lost in police pursuits and they fear those numbers will go up with loosened restrictions.

Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue voted against he measure.

“The initiative would permit a chase for any violation of law,” she said. “That includes an expired tab, a broken taillight, loud music, any infraction whatsoever could allow law enforcement to engage in a high speed chase.”

Strachan disagrees with the assertion police will give chase without careful consideration.

“We have to remember there is still a balancing test and law enforcement officers are still going to use their discretion to make sure the safety of the entire public is paramount.”

“I think you’re going to see positive results, just don’t expect it overnight.”

Strachan says the association will push hard again next session for a bill that would strengthen penalties and consequences for people who choose to flee.

SB-6200 was introduced with bipartisan support and WASPC helped craft the bill for the 2024 session, but it died in the House.

“It says if a person flees, there’s a great likelihood they are going to get caught using technologies, and they are going to have a significant sentence and jail time with mandatory minimums.”

Strachan adds the bill also establishes mandatory monitoring for both juveniles and adults who flee, impoundment of the vehicle and greater use of technology.

WASPC will push these changes in the 2025 legislative session.

“It includes fixed license plate reader systems and something called Star Chase which is like an air tag attached to the vehicle so you can track the car and then also air support like helicopters and drones so we can get better at locating, arresting and prosecuting people who flee from the police.”

Strachan says the biggest frustration for law enforcement in recent years has been a lack of consequences.

“So if you have greater sentencing, monitoring, technology; that’s going to massively change that equation.”

“Both of those things have to happen,” says Strachan.

“We’ve created greater flexibility for pursuits yes, but we would also like to see 6200 passed, to provide for significant consequences for people who choose to flee.”