In Washington, Clark County Sheriff’s deputies report that there’s an uptick of people who are fleeing from traffic stops after being pulled over.
According to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, 364 drivers have fled from traffic stops since March.
Since noticing the trend, deputies began tracking vehicle pursuits and recorded a significant number of instances of people violating police orders.
The number is even higher when combined with data from other agencies in the county.
“That’s just for the sheriff’s office, too,” said Sergeant Chris Skidmore, public information officer with the sheriff’s office. “We don’t track what Washington State Patrol has, but the rest of the agencies that use our CRESA dispatch center — that number is 741 throughout the whole county.”
Skidmore said that most routine traffic stops end in a warning or a citation, but fleeing makes the situation much worse. “When you do an action like this, it turns it into a criminal, arrestable offense,” he explained.
Leading police on a chase can also endanger members of the public.
On November 15, a deputy attempted to pull over an 18-year-old driver who had made an illegal U-turn and spun his tires in front of a fully-marked patrol car on Northeast 119th Street in rural Clark County. The deputy pursued the driver onto Northeast 87th Avenue. The driver was going 90 miles per hour in a 35-mph zone.
The deputy was unable to stop the driver, who continued to speed through the neighborhood.
“Even though it was late at night, people were out walking and doing stuff, and cars coming out and merging aren’t expecting other cars to be doing triple the speed limit through the neighborhood,” Skidmore said.
The driver was eventually taken into custody after deputies located the car.
“If you’re willing to listen, have that conversation with them [deputies], you’ll be on your way shortly and with your day,” Skidmore said.
As for why drivers choose to flee police, Skidmore said that in some cases it is because the driver is wanted for some other crime. In other cases, the person panics, which was the case with the aforementioned 18-year-old.
Clark County is by no means the only agency experiencing this phenomenon.
Earlier this year, Washington State Patrol (WSP) noted the same trend of drivers not stopping for state patrol officers. From January 1 to May 17, the agency recorded 934 incidents.
The agency also recorded an 80% decline in hot pursuits, which it blames on a law passed in 2021 that limits police pursuits.
The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs agreed with the WSP, arguing that criminals are emboldened because of laws such as House Bill 1054, which limits officers’ ability to pursue someone unless they have reasonable suspicion that a serious crime (e.g., violent or sex crime) has been committed or that the driver is impaired or is an escaped felon.
The union said that limiting situations when police can engage in vehicle pursuits has forced officers to balance whether the driver poses an “imminent threat” to the public, and to weigh the risk of getting in a dangerous high-speed chase versus letting the person get away.
As a result, more and more people are failing to yield to police
Police pursuit policies have been addressed in police reform measures across the country over the past few years. Police departments in cities like Chicago, Cincinnati and Atlanta have each made changes limiting pursuits.