Olympia, WA – Lawbreaking drivers in Washington State have ignored police officers’ attempts to pull them over and kept going on more than 900 occasions so far this year.
The Washington State Patrol (WSP) said that incidences of drivers refusing to stop for troopers’ lights and sirens has skyrocketed and continues to increase, KLCC reported.
The law enforcement agency said it logged 934 failure-to-yield incidents between Jan.1 and May 17.
The statistic isn’t one that WSP tracked in past years, but veteran law enforcement officers all over the state have said there has been a dramatic increase in drivers fleeing traffic stops since legislation went into effect that changed chase policies, KLCC reported.
“Something’s changed. People are not stopping right now,” WSP Sergeant Darren Wright, a 31-year veteran of the state patrol, said. “It’s happening three to five times a shift on some nights and then a couple times a week on day shift.”
The problem isn’t just with state troopers, KLCC reported.
The Puyallup Police Department said it had logged 148 times that drivers fled police from July 26, 2021 to May 18, 2022.
Puyallup Police Chief Scott Engle wrote in an email that it was a significant jump, KLCC reported.
“I could 1,000,000% say this is completely absolutely emphatically totally unusual,” Chief Engle wrote.
Lakewood Police Chief Mike Zaro said his officers have reported drivers refusing to stop for police an average of once a day, KLCC reported.
“A lot of times they’re stolen cars; sometimes we don’t know what the deal is,” Chief Zaro explained.
Critics have pointed to lawmakers’ passage of Washington House Bill 1054 last year that banned high-speed pursuits except in a few very specific circumstances, KLCC reported.
The legislation was passed in reaction to the death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police but now some state residents are questioning the wisdom of the restrictive policing policies.
Under the new law, police can’t chase a suspect unless there’s reasonable suspicion to believe the driver is impaired or the higher standard of probable cause to believe they’re an escaped felon or have committed a violent crime or a sex crime, according to KLCC.
Officers have to decide if the person is an “imminent threat” and whether it’s more dangerous to let them escape than to try to catch them in a high-speed pursuit.
Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said that one driver with a suspended license called 911 while he was being pursued by police in Redmond in March and told them to call off the chase, KLCC reported.
“I’m driving suspended, he’s not going to get me,” the driver told the 911 dispatcher in the audio recording. “It’s a violation of 1054. He’s not allowed to chase me. You need to tell them to call it off.”
Seeming to understand the problem they had created, lawmakers in the Washington House and Senate voted to amend the police chase legislation this year to make it less restrictive, but the final version of the amendment died in the Senate, KLCC reported.
Washington State Senator Manka Dhingra, a Democrat who voted against the amendment, said police needed to use other “creative ways” to take criminals into custody.
“We still want to make sure we’re catching the bad actors, but we cannot continue to put the community at risk with these high-speed chases,” Dhingra said.
She said she thought the new law was working well, KLCC reported.
“I haven’t heard stories of innocent people being killed,” Dhingra said. “And to me, that is progress.”
The lawmaker said she was confident the law would eventually catch up with drivers who eluded the police, KLCC reported.
But many residents disagreed with that assessment and pointed to incidences that have occurred since the law went into effect, including the time the law stopped police from catching an armed carjacker who had stolen a woman’s car at gunpoint.
The new laws require officers to confirm the person behind the wheel is the actual suspect before they can initiate a chase.
“Without anyone observing the driver, identifying the driver or any other possible occupants in the vehicle, there was no probable cause for anyone in the vehicle regarding this robbery case,” the Auburn Police Department (APD) said in a Facebook post. “Due to the recent legislative changes regarding vehicle pursuits and use of force in Washington State, we were not legally allowed to pursue the vehicle.”