Wash. state LE say more drivers are fleeing cops amid new laws
In one incident, a driver called 911 and cited the state ban on certain police pursuits to explain why he wasn’t stopping
By Suzie Ziegler
WASHINGTON — Law enforcement officials in Washington state say they have seen an uptick in fleeing drivers, NW News Network reported last week.
The Washington State Patrol logged 934 incidents of drivers fleeing police between January 1 and May 17, 2021, according to the report. Although Washington State Police (WSP) only recently started tracking this information, law enforcement veterans say these incidents are increasing.
“Something’s changed. People are not stopping right now,” said Sgt. Darren Wright, a WSP spokesperson. “It’s happening three to five times a shift on some nights and then a couple times a week on day shift.”
Other law enforcement leaders in Washington state agree with Wright’s sentiment.
“I could 1,000,000% say this is completely absolutely emphatically totally unusual,” said Scott Engle, Chief of Police in Puyallup, Wash., to NW News Network. According to the report, the Puyallup Police Department tracked 148 incidents of fleeing drivers between July 2021 and May 2022.
Likewise, Chief Mike Zaro of Pierce County, Washington, says his officers experience one fleeing driver per day on average.
The uptick can be blamed in part on a series of state police reforms enacted in 2021 and amended in 2022, says Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Among many changes, the reforms barred police from engaging in high-speed pursuits unless there’s reasonable suspicion the driver is impaired or if there’s probable cause the driver has committed a violent crime.
“We have seen a significant change in the environment out there where the word is out about this restriction,” Strachan told NW News Network.
Strachan pointed to an incident in Redmond, Wash., where a driver with a suspended license called 911 during a pursuit to explain why he wasn’t stopping.
“I’m driving suspended, he’s not going to get me,” the driver said in a recording of the 911 call, according to the report. “It’s a violation of [House Bill] 1054. He’s not allowed to chase me. You need to tell them to call it off.”
In March, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a rollback bill to amend some of the reform laws after police leaders and lawmakers claimed the original reforms were too restrictive. However, a bill to loosen pursuit restrictions failed.