The Washington State Patrol is raising alarms about the concerning trend of drivers refusing to pull over for state troopers.
According to agency records, there were 934 failure-to-yield incidents from January 1 to May 17 this year. While there is no data from years past to compare to, veterans on the force say that drivers refusing to pull over for traffic stops has become increasingly common.
“Something’s changed. People are not stopping right now,” Sergeant Darren Wright, an agency spokesman with 31 years on the job, told the Associated Press. “It’s happening three to five times a shift on some nights and then a couple times a week on day shift.”
Local police departments have experienced the trend as well.
The Puyallup Police Department recorded 148 failure-to-yield incidents from late July last year to May 18 this year.
Chief Scott Engle is surprised by the number.
“I could 1,000,000% say this is completely absolutely emphatically totally unusual,” he said.
The city of Lakewood in Pierce County is also seeing more drivers refusing to stop for officers. Chief Mike Zaro said it happens on average once a day.
“A lot of times they’re stolen cars; sometimes we don’t know what the deal is,” Zaro said.
Experts blame the incidents on a law passed last year that bans high-speed police chases in certain cases, among other changes in police tactics.
Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, criticized the law as going too far and as a threat to public safety. Strachan also believes the law is emboldening criminals to resist police.
“It used to be sort of unusual and notable to see someone flee or to see someone simply choose not to stop on a traffic stop. Now it’s becoming incredibly common,” Strachan said.
Under the new law, officers require reasonable suspicion that a driver is impaired or sufficient probable cause that the driver is an escaped felon or wanted for a violent crime or a sex crime.
In these latter cases, police can only pursue if they believe the person represents an “imminent threat.”
This year, the Washington House and Senate passed a bill with amendments that broadened the circumstances in which police can pursue fleeing drivers, but a final version of the measure died in the state Senate.
The Washington State Patrol has recorded an 80% decline in hot pursuits — from 219 in 2020 before the law was passed to just 46 over the same time period this year.
According to Oregon Public Radio, State Senator Manka Dhingra, a former deputy prosecutor, said the law was primarily passed by Democrats to save innocent lives, citing a study “that found 30 people died in pursuits in Washington between 2015 and last year — nearly half of them bystanders or passengers in the fleeing vehicle.”
“We still want to make sure we’re catching the bad actors, but we cannot continue to put the community at risk with these high-speed chases,” Dhingra said.