Police get back ability to chase criminals

Police in Kitsap County and the state will have more freedom to conduct high-speed pursuits under a new law that goes into effect June 6.

Public safety will continue to be a factor as cops have to consider when a chase is appropriate.

Pursuits will no longer be limited to individuals suspected of violent crimes and specific misdemeanors, a requirement that barred police from chasing someone who committed a property crime such as burglary or stealing a motor vehicle. The law was passed during the last legislative session.

“The change in legislation allows officers to have more discretion as to when they can pursuit and what for,” Port Orchard police chief Matt Brown said. “Prior to this new change, there were very specific crimes that we could pursue for – those were generally violent felonies and DUI.”

Kitsap County Sheriff John Gese, a vocal critic of the previous law, supports the change.

“The intent of this is to hold police to a very high standard – make them accountable for these pursuits – but give them the tool and some discretion to decide when to use it,” Gese said.

State law had generally been silent on pursuits until police reforms were introduced following the death of George Floyd in 2020, Gese said. Floyd, a Black man, died after being handcuffed by Minneapolis police during an incident caught on video and ignited protests across the country. Previously, police generally set their own policy on chasing suspects.

Police reform

The state’s prior law was enacted in 2021. Pursuits were limited to when police believed the driver had committed a violent crime – such as manslaughter, kidnapping and arson – a sex crime, domestic violence-related offenses, or DUI.

There were times police were unable to speed after people suspected of stealing a car or burglarizing a home. In such cases, all officers could do is turn on their blue and red overhead lights and hope the suspect pulled over. If the individual took off an officer was unable to chase them.

“It led to chaos,” Brown said. “You may remember the (2022) video from a few years ago when there was a stolen car that rammed two patrol cars and two community members cars (in the Goodwill parking lot on Mile Hill Drive), and then got away. That was frustrating.”

Once criminals realized the revised law barred pursuits for property crimes, car thefts accelerated. The sheriff’s office saw car thefts in 2020 go from 261 to 416 in 2021, a 10-year high, Gese said.

Public safety

The new law also focuses on public safety.

Law enforcement still need to determine if a pursuit is warranted. “We have to weigh the risks of the pursuit to the community versus the risks of letting that person get away,” Brown said.

Factors to consider include time of day, weather conditions, the type of road and number of other motorists, law enforcement officials said.

Gese said, “When we talk about high-speed chases there are risks to deputies – they could crash. They are a risk to suspects – they could crash. And they are a risk to bystanders and other motorists. When people are travelling at high speeds it’s really hard for people to react. It is probably one of the more dangerous things we engage in.”


To help make high-speed pursuits safer, training is offered to police at Bremerton Raceway. A recent session taught officers how to end a pursuit. Two ways covered involved laying a spike strip across the road to deflate the tires of the eluding vehicle and using a PIT (precision immobilization technique) maneuver to bump the side of the escaping car, causing it to spin out.

“The spotlight will be on us with this change in the law. It’s a tool that we were given. We are going to use it very wisely and with a lot of discretion. I want people to feel assured that this isn’t some free license to chase everybody and anybody. You hear some people saying that. That’s not true,” Gese said.