Lauren Moye, FISM News
The state of Washington is seeing a sharp increase in drivers who disregard the flashing blue lights of police officers, thanks to a police reform law that prevents law enforcement from pursuing vehicles over minor infractions. Since the start of 2022, police data shows that over 900 drivers have fled or refused to yield to Washington State Patrol officers.
Washington HB 1054 went into effect on July 25, 2021, after being signed into state law on May 18 of last year. Since its adoption, the state has witnessed a surge in drivers who no longer respect traditional police signals to pull over. From Jan. 1 to May 17, Washington State Patrol logged a total of 934 failure-to-yield incidents according to a local news network.
“Something’s changed. People are not stopping right now,” said patrol Sergeant Darren Wright, who has 31 years of law enforcement experience. “It’s happening three to five times a shift on some nights and then a couple times a week on day shift.”
Designed to ban “dangerous and unacceptable police actions that lead to a loss of life” according to the state’s House Democrats press release, HB 1054 changed Washington state’s police standards by limiting the use of tear gas, banning police use of military equipment, and preventing the use of chokeholds. The bill also prevents vehicular pursuits unless there is “probable cause” that the individual is driving under the influence, has engaged in a violent or sex offense, needs to be identified, or is a safety risk to others. The change in language from “reasonable suspicion” puts a higher burden of proof on officers and puts them in danger of lawsuits if they are unable to produce adequate evidence.
Democratic State Rep. Jesse Johnson, who introduced the bill, said vehicular pursuits are “obviously very controversial” during a March 2021 interview. He added, “A lot of times that’s how our officers are able to catch folks that are involved in DUIs and so we’re going to allow for vehicular pursuits for DUI cases or really terrible cases, but not for things like minor possession of drugs where vehicular pursuit can harm innocent bystanders.”
Localized police departments have noted that the trend of disregarding police officers at traffic stops has corresponded to the adoption of the law. From the time the bill became effective to now, the Puyallup Police Department noted 148 incidents of drivers fleeing from a traffic stop. Puyallup’s 2020 census data shows it has a population of under 43,000.
Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Executive Director Steve Strachan agrees that the state needed uniform regulations regarding vehicular pursuit but disagrees with the extent of restrictions placed by the law. He told NW News Network, “We have seen a significant change in the environment out there where the word is out … about this restriction.”
Strachan cited an example where an individual fleeing from a traffic stop in Redmond, Washington called 911. “I’m driving suspended,” the driver confessed in the recording. “He’s not going to get me. It’s a violation of 1054. He’s not allowed to chase me.”
State lawmakers attempted to pass an amendment to the law earlier this year, with Republican lawmakers stating that the law was putting an undue burden on officers and “jeopardizing public safety.”
Gina Mosbrucker, the ranking Republican on the House Public Safety Committee, stated at the time, “I believe we owe it to our officers and our communities to hold a special legislative session now to change these new laws and return to a ‘reasonable suspicion standard.’” However, opponents in the state senate killed the final measure.
Advocates of no-pursuit rules believe that law enforcement can prosecute individuals later on, including for the felony of fleeing police. However, officers maintain that is difficult to identify suspects for later judicial processes.