Over a dozen mayors across Pierce County, Washington, are calling on state lawmakers to address a concerning rise in local crime, including motor-vehicle thefts and youth offenses, by easing police pursuit laws and funding law enforcement.
On October 27, 16 mayors signed a letter stressing the need for additional state investment in public safety while calling out the unintended consequences of certain police reforms.
“Recent changes to state laws necessitate additional state investment in public safety,” the mayors wrote in the letter to the county’s legislative delegation. “The problems we now see with open drug use, increased stolen vehicles, increased property crime, increased eluding from police, and an overall disregard for public safety are not unique to our cities and towns. It is happening everywhere.”
The municipal leaders presented five policy considerations for the upcoming legislative session, one of which is a modification of Washington’s controversial police pursuit law to allow law enforcement to chase stolen vehicles.
“We have to show some discretion, but we should not say, ‘We should never pursue,’” Lakewood Police Chief Smith stated at a recent public safety meeting at University Place City Hall that brought local and state officials to discuss legislative proposals. The rise in certain crimes following the implementation of House Bill 1054 and House Bill 1310, which restricted police pursuits and the use of deadly force, was a focal point of the meeting. Lakewood saw a significant increase in motor vehicle thefts and cases of people eluding police after the enactment of these laws.
“Unfortunately, offenders are currently using the state’s vehicular pursuit laws to their advantage by using a vehicle in the commission of their criminal activity, an unintended consequence of a well-intentioned public safety goal,” the mayors argued in their letter.
House Bill 1140, passed in 2021, prevents law enforcement from interviewing individuals under 18 years old in connection to a crime without first providing access to an attorney.
According to officials, the law has led to a doubling of known juvenile suspects in assault, robbery and vehicle theft cases in Lakewood.
Local leaders also find the process cumbersome and claim it has hindered early intervention to prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system.
The mayors, representing a bipartisan group of local leaders, are requesting that the State Legislature allocate additional funding to enforce and prosecute vehicle thefts and property crimes, create ongoing funding for crisis response and diversion programs, and allow parents or guardians to offer consent for law enforcement to interview juveniles.
The mayors also suggested increasing the number of police officers by expanding training opportunities and eliminating associated costs to agencies.
Notably, Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodard did not sign the letter.
Tacoma City Council member Keith Blocker called for a broader conversation to address what he referred to as “crimes of desperation,” believing that while the mayors’ proposals can address some issues, additional strategies are necessary, such as providing services to families and resources to schools.
University Place Council member Kent Keel also urged officials to find a middle ground, stating: “This is not a binary decision.”
Representative Mari Leavitt and Senator Steve Conway encouraged local leaders to remain committed to finding common ground between public and law enforcement concerns.
Conway expects a debate on the pursuit law during the upcoming legislative session.
In addition to the mayors from Lakewood, Puyallup, University Place, Bonney Lake and Gig Harbor, mayors from DuPont, Fircrest, Orting, Ruston, Sumner, Buckley, Eatonville, Milton, Pacific, Roy and Steilacoom also signed the letter to state lawmakers.
It is worth noting that the Legislature passed a revised version of the earlier police reform bill that partially eased restrictions for police pursuits back in May 2023. The bill in question, Senate Bill 5352, allows officers to pursue suspects accused of violent or sex crimes based on reasonable suspicion, requiring police to have a higher standard of probable cause to initiate the pursuit.
It remains to be seen if the law will be broadened further in the upcoming legislative session.