Washington deputies are seeing increase in drivers fleeing after being pulled over (because police can’t stop them)

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CLARK COUNTY, WA- Well who could have predicted this? According to KGW-8 in Portland, Oregon, sheriffs deputies in Clark County, Washington have seen a marked increase in people fleeing from traffic stops after being pulled over.

Sheriffs say that since March, 364 drivers have fled from traffic stops. When officials saw what they believed to be a pattern developing, they began to track the number of police pursuits in March. And that only includes pursuits from the sheriff’s office.

“That’s just for the sheriff’s office too,” said Sgt. Chris Skidmore, the office’s public information officer. “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 noted that over half of “routine” traffic stops end in a warning or a citation, however fleeing from the police makes matters much worse.

“When you do an action like this, it turns it into a criminal, arrestable offense,” he said.

That is the least of it. Motor vehicle pursuits are also inherently dangerous.

This past week, a teen driver made an illegal U-turn in Clark County, then spun his tires in front of a fully marked sheriff’s department vehicle, authorities said. The driver then fled, engaging deputies in pursuit, driving 90 mph in a 35 mph zone.

The deputy followed the vehicle, however the driver continued to drive recklessly through residential neighborhoods, Skidmore added.

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“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,” he added.

The car was subsequently found and the operator—18-years-old—was taken into custody. Skidmore is asking drivers to please obey the law.

“If you’re willing to listen, have that conversation with them [deputies] and you’ll be on your way shortly and with your day,” he said.

Typically, those who flee from law enforcement officers do so because they are wanted for something else and are trying to avoid being caught. Sometimes however, the driver may become scared or panicked, which is the excuse used by the teenage driver in this last week’s incident.

In May, the Washington State patrol said they were finding a rise in drivers refusing to stop for state troopers. From January 1 through May 17, the agency logged 934 incidents. Other law enforcement agencies in Washington also reported similar increases.

The increase in drivers fleeing from police has been laid at the feet of a police “reform” bill, House Bill 1054 which was passed in 2021. That is the opinion of the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, as well as others in law enforcement.

Under that law, police and sheriffs are prohibited from pursuing a vehicle unless probable cause exists to believe the driver is impaired, or there is probable cause to believe they are an escaped felon or have committed a violent crime or a sex crime.

Officers must also consider whether the person is an “imminent threat” and whether the safety risks of the person getting away outweigh the danger of engaging in a high-speed pursuit.

Washington State isn’t the only state seeing an increase in the frequency of police pursuits. Last year, Minnesota also reported similar findings, according to CBS News.

“People are fleeing from police at a rate we’ve never seen before,” Col. Matt Langer said. “This is a huge, huge problem nationwide; it’s not just a Minnesota-specific problem.”

“Twenty-three years ago when I was working the road, a pursuit was an oddity,” he continued. “Today, it’s not uncommon to have two, three in the metro a day.”

There was a feeling at the time that perhaps people were fleeing at an increasing rate due to the deaths of Philando Castile and George Floyd, both which occurred around that time.

The University of Minnesota, led by Dr. Nichole Morris led a research study on the psychology of why people were fleeing the police. She acknowledged part of the issue appeared to be fear of the police, but discovered it was more than that.

“Certainly, there is a stress and fear response when people are being pulled over by the police,” Morris said. “But often what we see in the data is that they are fleeing to avoid a greater charge.”

The data showed drivers who flee from police are primarily in stolen cars, are wanted for assault or other crimes, or are subject to arrest warrants; they feel they have nothing to lose.

“So its not so much a decision to flee or not flee, but get caught or not get caught. So they are making a calculated choice to flee to try and avoid a greater charge,” Morris said.

The Minnesota State Patrol acknowledges the danger in police pursuits and uses air units and other technologies to mitigate pursuits.

“There’s no question that police pursuits are dangerous to everybody involved. They are dangerous to the people fleeing, the officer involved, and the general public,” Langer said. “We need to dig into it, as a state, as a profession.”

Across the nation, many police departments have tightened up their pursuit policies, mostly due to liability concerns or restrictions placed on them by state legislatures, as is the case in Washington State.


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