More than 900 drivers in Washington state refused orders from a state patrol officer to pull over during the first five months of the year in the wake of a law that allows vehicle pursuits only in limited circumstances.
“Something’s changed. People are not stopping right now,” said Sgt. Darren Wright, who has been a Washington State Patrol spokesman for 31 years. “It’s happening three to five times a shift on some nights and then a couple times a week on day shift.”
The Northwest News Network reported local police departments are also experiencing a spike in instances of drivers fleeing from officers.
Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, observed that it “used to be sort of unusual and notable to see someone flee or to see someone simply choose not to stop on a traffic stop.”
“Now it’s becoming incredibly common,” Strachan said.
Strachan and other law enforcement officials tie the trend to the passage last year of House Bill 1054, which was part of the police reforms promoted by majority Democrats in response to the death of George Floyd in policy custody in Minneapolis.
Under the law, police can pursue a vehicle only if there is “probable cause” to arrest a person for committing a violent crime or sex offense. A property crime, such as stealing a catalytic converter, would not warrant a chase.
Strachan, while recognizing the need for rules governing police pursuits, said the law went too far.
He noted an incident in March in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, the home of Microsoft. The driver, who had a suspended license, told a 911 dispatcher he would not stop because it would be a violation of House Bill 1054.
“I’m driving suspended, he’s not going to get me,” the driver said. “It’s a violation of 1054. He’s not allowed to chase me. You need to tell them to call it off.”
Spokane County Undersheriff John Nowels said it “shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody” that drivers are refusing to pull over in response to the new law, reported the Center Square news site.
Strachan said no one “wants more pursuits, which are inherently dangerous, but current law has created an atmosphere of flouting the law even on simple traffic stops.”
“This is one example of a change in atmosphere that is, and will continue to be, unacceptable and dangerous to public safety. Fleeing in a vehicle should not be a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.
The main sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Rep. Jesse Johnson, said he’s against lowering the threshold for pursuits.
“I just do not believe pursuits in a 21st century policing system are needed,” he said in a March interview on “Inside Olympia,” which is broadcast by the state’s public affairs TV channel, TVW.
An analysis of police pursuits presented to lawmakers in support of the law found 30 people died in pursuits in Washington between 2015 and 2021. Nearly half were bystanders or passengers in the fleeing vehicle.
Nowels urges lawmakers to craft legislation that strikes a balance, allowing officers to enforce the law while minimizing the risk to bystanders.
See a report by KING-TV in Seattle:
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