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June 29, 2022

STOP! In the Name of the Law! Unless You’re in Washington State

From January 1st through May 17th, the Washington State Patrol has tallied 934 failure-to-yield incidents of drivers failing to stop for troopers who attempt to pull them over.

It’s not just the Washington State Patrol seeing this increase, though. Local departments like the Puyallup Police Department have logged 148 instances of drivers fleeing from officers from July 2021 to May 2022. In an email to NW News Network, Chief Scott Engle wrote, “I could 1,000,000% say this is completely emphatically totally unusual.”

On average, Lakewood, a smaller agency, cited someone fleeing law enforcement once a day. But, chief Mike Zaro stated, “a lot of times they’re stolen cars; sometimes we don’t know what the is.”

Law enforcement across the state blames the increase in drivers fleeing law enforcement on a House Bill 1054, which was part of a series of police reforms enacted in 2021 amid nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd. One of the changes barred police from engaging in “high-speed pursuits” unless reasonable suspicion existed that the driver is impaired or if there’s probable cause to believe the driver has committed a violent offense or a crime involving a victim of sexual assault.

Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, noted a significant change in the environment once word of the restriction spread. Strachan referenced an incident where a driver with a suspended driver’s license in Redmond, Washington, fled from police and called 911 during the pursuit to explain why he wasn’t stopping.

“I’m driving suspended. He’s not going to get me. It’s a violation of [House Bill] 1054. He’s not allowed to chase me. You need to tell them to call it off.”

This year, Governor Jay Inslee signed a rollback bill to amend some law enforcement reforms after police leaders and lawmakers pushed back, claiming the original reforms were too restrictive. But a final version of the measure died in the state Senate.

Democrat Senator Manka Dhingra, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, voted against changing the pursuit law noting a study that found 30 people died in pursuits in Washington between 2015 and 2021. “I haven’t heard stories of innocent people being killed, and to me, that is progress,” Dhingra stated.

When questioned about reports of an increased amount of people fleeing law enforcement, Dhingra expressed skepticism that the reforms were to blame. Dhingra went so far as to suggest that police have other “creative ways” to follow up and investigate when drivers fail to stop. For example, noting it’s a felony to elude police but only a misdemeanor to stop for an officer. Dhingra stated to NW News Network she is confident the law will eventually catch up with drivers who run from officers. “Those consequences may not occur right when the incident occurs, but those consequences will occur.”

If CSI has taught me anything, it’s that we can always solve the crime in an hour regardless of ridiculous policies by the government. So, in the comments below, let us know what “creative ways” you think the Senator believes we have to investigate drivers failing to stop for law enforcement.