How new pursuit law has led to increased crime
In 2021 violent crime increased in Washington state by more than 12 percent compared to the year prior. That includes 325 murders, the most ever recorded since the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) first started to collect data in 1980.
This enormous increase in crime did not come about randomly but was the product of misguided priorities by legislative leadership and Governor Jay Inslee.
One of the most notorious enacted during the 2021 legislative session was HB 1054, a “police reform” bill that prohibited officers from pursuing criminal suspects without “probable cause” as opposed to “reasonable suspicion.” This meant that if an officer didn’t directly witness a crime occur, they’re prohibited from pursuing a suspect. The legislature also banned officers from engaging in vehicular pursuits of suspects without probable cause.
It was clear even before their passage that these proposals would undermine public safety and were based on fringe ideological beliefs as opposed to practical guidelines rooted in the realities of law enforcement activity. Law enforcement advocates warned that the proposals would backfire and hamstring their ability to protect life and property.
Yet, legislative leadership pushed the bill through both chambers, and Inslee signed the bill without vetoing any sections.
The message sent to criminals was clear: If you want to violate the law, the police’s hands are tied.
It’s a message they quickly took to heart. In November 2021 a suspect rammed into several Puyallup police vehicles while they were occupied, yet the officers were legally prohibited from pursuing.
Attempts were made to correct these misguided laws during this year’s session. HB 1735 clarified a police officer’s use of force, while HB 2037 restored most of an officer’s ability to pursue suspects based on “reasonable” suspicion, rather than “probable cause.”
However, a bill allowing officers to engage in more vehicular pursuits failed to clear the legislature due to intense opposition from key-ranking legislators.
Meanwhile, more than 900 drivers this year as of May have failed to pull over for a Washington State Patrol trooper. One can only assume there’s plenty of similar incidents among local law enforcement officers. Puyallup Police recorded 148 instances of drivers fleeing from officers between July 26, 2021-May 18, 2022.
Criminals are keenly aware that the law is in their favor. Earlier this year a suspect with a suspended driver’s license called 9-11 while being pursued, ordering them to call the officers off due to HB 1054’s restrictions. This month, a vehicle theft suspect refused to pull over for officers and was only caught because he rammed the police vehicles, authorizing the officers to pursue.
While violent crime has increased, vehicle thefts by April of this year skyrocketed by a whopping 88 percent compared to the same time in 2021. Between July 2021 – when the new “police reform” laws took effect – and April of this year, vehicle thefts increased by 93 percent.
It is unmistakably clear that these policies have done nothing but embolden criminals and handicap law enforcement agencies throughout the state, at the expense of public safety. The most egregious aspect of the situation is that it was completely avoidable, had legislative leadership and Inslee exercised sound judgment and better discretion when considering these proposals.
Washington deserves better.