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  • Writer's pictureSarah S. Nelson

Limited Police Pursuit = Less Safe, Not More

In July 2021, police pursuit laws changed, making it more difficult for the police to chase and apprehend criminals. Our legislature needs to act to roll back these laws and make the residents of Washington State safer.


In spite of overwhelming evidence that current police pursuit laws have increased lawlessness and have contributed to possibly the most dangerous era in Washington State history, our legislators in Olympia have ignored the needs and desires of their constituents for them to FIX THE PROBLEM THEY CREATED.


On January 22, 2023, Matthew Hickman, Chair for the Department of Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Forensics at Seattle University submitted the following report to 42nd Legislative District (LD) Representative Alicia Rule regarding the effect of the police pursuit laws.

Pursuit & Fatalities in Washington Since 2015 analyzed by M. Hickman: https://rpubs.com/moxbox/wa_pursuits

Dr. Hickman states that the best source of information on the success or failure of current police pursuit laws would be law enforcement. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) issued a statement requesting revision of current vehicle pursuit laws.


Note: Links highlighted in the document can be found below each page.


Links for WASPC Statement, page 1

WASPC's 2023 Public policy priorities: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5wk1J9eejb4

Pursuits and Fatalities in Washington Since 2015: https://rpubs.com/moxbox/wa_pursuits

Links for WASPC Statement, page 2

 

Number of Vehicles Stolen in Washington

2019 23,421 (64.17/day avg)

Restricted pursuit law enacted July 2021

2021 39,305 (107.69/day avg)

2022 45,033 (123.38/day avg)


Car thefts have nearly doubled since 2019!

 

WASPC Data Illustrates the Need to Revise Pursuit Laws

Below are charts illustrating the data regarding the number of people fleeing lawful authority, the increase in traffic deaths, and the increase in auto thefts.


Chart 1: WSP Pursuits and Fleds (2014 - 2022) Following the July 2021 change in Washington State law regarding police pursuit, Washington State Patrol (WSP) began tracking "fleds." This category was designated to record the times when suspects fled and WSP could not legally pursue. (WSP continued to track pursuits that were allowable under the new law.) This new category was created because "fleds" were a virtual non-issue prior to July 2021. WSP records 3,110 drivers fled lawful traffic stops and were not pursued in 2022.


Chart: WSP Pursuits and Fleds 2014 - 2022
Source: Washington State Patrol

Chart 2: Lakewood, WA Pursuits and Fleds (2014 - 2022)

Lakewood, Washington, population approx 65,000, is located about 20 miles south of Federal Way on the I-5 corridor. Like WSP, Lakewood PD also began tracking the number of people fleeing lawful traffic stops.


While most city and county law enforcement agencies are not actively tracking their "fleds," they are experiencing similar behaviors across the board. (Do you remember this guy who called 911 because he'd (allegedly) kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and police were chasing them. He insisted They're not supposed to chase me!)

Chart: Lakewood Eludes & Arrests for Eluding Jan 2019 - Dec 2022
Source: Lakewood Police Department

Chart 3: Washington State Traffic Fatalities (2017 - 2022)

Washington Traffic Safety Commission's most recent preliminary Traffic Fatality Report shows 745 traffic deaths for 2022 -- the highest number since 1990! While we recognize that correlation does not equal causation, this is a troubling trend that tracks with the timeline of the current harmful police pursuit laws.


Chart: Washington State Traffic Fatalities 2017 - 2022
Source: Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Data Source: Washington Traffic Safety Commission Coded Fatal Crash (CFC) Files


 

CALL TO ACTION:

The current laws governing police pursuit are FAILED POLICY. Since July 2021, vehicle thefts have risen at an unprecedented rate, "fleds" have skyrocketed, and traffic fatalities have seen a similar tragic rise in numbers.


Criminals see our current police pursuit law as a literal Get Out of Jail Free card. Our communities suffer because of it. (If you don't think that's true, get on NextDoor, look at your local Ring reports, or listen to the police scanner. Sadly, you will soon be better informed.)


Your voice matters!


ACTION 1: Please contact your representatives* and ask them to approve the police pursuit reform bills of SB5352 and HB1363.

ACTION 2: Comment on SB5352 and HB1363. (There is a button on the ride side of each page. Click to comment on the bill.)

 

30th Legislative District Representatives

Representative Kristine Reeves, PO Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504, 360-786-7830

Representative Jamila Taylor, PO Box 40600, Olympia, WA 98504, 360-786-7898

Senator Claire Wilson, PO Box 40430, Olympia, WA 98504, 360-786-7658


9th Congressional District Representatives

Senator Maria Cantwell, 511 Hart Senate Office Bldg, Washington, DC 20510, 202-224-3441

Senator Patty Murray, 2 Constitution Ave NE, Ste 154, Washington, DC 20002, 202-224-2621

Representative Adam Smith, 2264 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515, 202-225-8901

 

Thank you to Mike Painter for compiling the charts and information contained within this blog post!

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