Watch: Police don’t chase stolen vehicle, let criminal get away thanks to new police reform laws

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AUBURN, WA- According to authorities, Auburn Police let the driver of a stolen vehicle escape, stating they could not pursue the vehicle because of new state police reform laws that have taken effect.

On August 31st, the police department posted a press release on Facebook, stating:

Around 2:30pm Officers with Auburn PD were dispatched to a stolen vehicle report near the Auburn Police Substation on Lea Hill. The victim at the scene told officers she had been robbed at gunpoint and her vehicle, a white 2016 Lexus RX, had been stolen.

Using a photographic montage, the victim was able to identify the suspect. Officers learned, the vehicle was equipped with Lojack and it had been activated. Just after 3pm, while searching for a suspect on an unrelated call, King County Guardian One reported that they had been receiving pings from the stolen Lexus.

Guardian One followed the Lojack signal and at about 3:15pm located the vehicle backing into an apartment complex in the 900 Block of 12 ST SE. Not long after, Guardian One saw a male had left from the backseat and another male had left from the front passenger seat. Neither of these males were able to be identified.

The male from the back seat walked across the parking lot, while the male from the front passenger seat got into another vehicle. As patrol units began to converge on the area, Guardian One said a patrol unit had just driven by the Lexus as it pulled out of the apartment complex parking lot. The Lexus had come close to one of our patrol vehicles and drove around our officers.

Officers and Guardian One continued to try and track the stolen vehicle, but they eventually fell too far behind and could not keep up. Without anyone observing the driver, identifying the driver or any other possible occupants in the vehicle, there was no probable cause for anyone in the vehicle regarding this robbery case.

Due to the recent legislative changes regarding vehicle pursuits and use of force in Washington State, we were not legally allowed to pursue the vehicle.

Auburn police said they did not have probable cause and could not pursue the vehicle because of the new police reform laws passed earlier this year.

ESB 1054 prohibits police from engaging in pursuits unless there is probable cause that the person in the vehicle has committed a violent offense or sex offense.

According to the Auburn Police Department, because a day had passed since the armed carjacking, it is possible the driver was not the same person who committed the armed robbery, so police could not pursue.

State Rep. Jesse Johnson (D-District 30), who sponsored the bills regulating use of force and police pursuits, stated that the police responded “exactly how they should have in that situation,” adding:

“I do think the course of action taken by the Auburn Police Department was probably the right course of action based on the law. I think they did the right thing by not doing a high-speed chase.”

A day following the Auburn Police Department’s Facebook post about the stolen vehicle, the department said they saw a lot of people confused as to why the officers did not pursue the vehicle. In response, the department posted a video to try and better explain. Watch below:

A study done by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that between 1996 and 2015, police pursuits killed 102 people in Washington State alone. Of the 102 people who died, 20 were bystanders in vehicles and five were pedestrians. 

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Washington State Supreme Court: Vehicles of homeless people can’t be towed from public property

August 17th, 2021

SEATTLE, WA — The Washington State Supreme Court recently ruled that certain fines imposed by a city against the homeless can be deemed excessive and, therefore, unconstitutional.

The Aug. 12 decision was made based on a case involving the towing of a homeless man’s vehicle and requiring him to pay the city $550 in fees in order to get it back.

According to KING 5 News, Supreme Court justices decided that it was unconstitutionally excessive for the City of Seattle to impound a homeless man’s truck and require him to reimburse the city $550 in towing and storage costs.

Seattle Times reported higher fees being levied against the homeless man, Steven Long:

“Long, a construction worker and handyman who’s been homeless since 2014, took the city to court after he came home one day from work and found the truck he’d been sleeping in was towed.

“He was fined more than $900 on top of the $44 parking violation. If he was unable to pay, his truck would be auctioned off by Lincoln Towing, the city contractor.”

 

The justices also said that vehicles in which people live in are homes and cannot be sold at a public auction to pay their debts. That eliminates a financial incentive for towing the cars in the first place, according to KING 5 News’ report.

Jim Lobsenz, Long’s lead lawyer on the case since its beginning, told Seattle Times that he hoped the Court’s decision would help end the City’s “racket” of seizing vehicles and making money off of them:

“What are they going to do with it? Their tow lot will fill up with vehicles that can’t be redeemed.

“It should stop this industry of constantly seizing and selling and reseizing and reselling and reauctioning and making money off of poor homeless people living in their vehicles.”

Seattle has an ordinance that requires vehicles that are parked on public streets to be moved every 72 hours:

“Regardless of whether or not there is any sign posted, the City’s Traffic Code does not allow a vehicle to be parked on a city street for longer than 72 hours.

“Move your vehicle off the blockface at least once every 72 hours. If you are going on vacation, find off street parking or leave your keys with a trusted neighbor to check your vehicle and move it as needed.  

“Because parking restrictions on any street can change with 24-hour notice for such things as emergency utility work, cleaning or a special event, people should check for temporary signage every day.

“Vehicles must be moved by the time indicated or drivers may receive a citation and their vehicle may be towed and impounded.”

On the City of Seattle’s website, Mayor Jenny Durkan appears to sympathize with the plight of the homeless and is quoted as saying:

“Every night, thousands of our neighbors sleep outside without shelter, in some of the most inhumane and dangerous conditions you can imagine.

“While every single person experiencing homelessness in Seattle has their own story, what is true across Seattle is the need to help our neighbors move to safer places as we work together to build a better future for all who call Seattle home.”

Yet, Long had been warned by Seattle’s police four days in advance that his vehicle was violating the city’s ordinance requiring vehicles parked on public streets be moved every 72 hours.

 

In addition, the City of Seattle, which touts itself as current and progressive, only had homelessness data from 2018 under the tab, “Addressing the Crisis.”

On the same page, the City made clear, despite the dated information on its website, that there were “permitted villages” and “unauthorized encampments.”

There are nine permitted villages, according to Seattle’s website:

“The City’s HOPE Team works with City-contracted outreach providers to connect people living unsheltered to Seattle’s nine currently permitted villages.

“They offer a place for unsheltered people to find stability and connect to housing resources.

“Each night, the villages provide more than 300 people a tiny house structure that locks, access to restrooms and showers, case management, a kitchen and a managed community.”

Regarding unauthorized encampments, the City noted:

“Since 2008, the City has had specific rules for the removal of encampments that balance providing services and alternatives to people living in encampments with the health and safety benefits of removing encampments.”

In addition:

“Cleanups at unauthorized camping sites are prioritized based on health and safety issues observed. Criminal behavior and obstructing a facility (e.g., camping on the sidewalk) are considered as part of this prioritization.”

On a separate page that identified encampments on a map, it was not clear how current it was and whether or not more unauthorized camps have appeared in Seattle since 2018.

The City confirmed that no more than 10 encampments would ever be identified on its website map:

“No more than 10 emphasis areas will be identified as such at any one time, and those locations will be identified on the below map.”

Citizens can report illegal encampments by contacting Seattle’s Customer Service Bureau by filing complaints via phone, using a “Find It, Fix It” app or filling out a form on its website.

Despite Seattle’s seemingly chilly relationship with its homeless residents, the Supreme Court ruling handed a victory to the homeless that extends beyond the city’s limits.

Bill Maurer, managing attorney of the Institute for Justice Washington Office, told KING 5 News:

“(Cities) can enforce all of the laws they have on the books.

“What the Supreme Court case said, essentially, is that when you’re imposing fines, you have to look at the person that you’re imposing the fines on, and if the fine is going to destroy them, if it’s going to ruin them, if it’s going to destroy their livelihood, then that’s an unconstitutional fine.”

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said there would be “wide-reaching implications” as a result of last week’s ruling.

In a statement to press, Holmes said:

“This decision will have wide-reaching implications for how mayors and City Councils from every Washington city respond to people living in their vehicles on public property.

“We anticipate that elected policymakers will adjust their policies to align with today’s ruling, and our attorneys will advise them as they make their decisions.”

 Jeff, a retired police officer who has helped the homeless in several New Jersey towns and cities for several years, applauded the Court’s decision:

“My initial thoughts are that the decision does make sense to me. The Court ruled that enforcement and penalties can be continued up to the point of making another struggling person be unsheltered.

“To enforce to the point of making someone homeless wreaks of a penalty not fitting the ‘crime.’  I like the decision.

“It may be wise for the governing authorities to provide a designated piece of property that continues to look after the interest of the general public and allow those in the mobile homes to remain in a designated area, with reasonable guidelines in place.

“I believe New Jersey should do the same.”

Jeff also said society has a responsibility to look after others:

“I am to the right of Reagan, but do believe we need to look after those who can’t cut it financially due to myriad reasons.

“These include limited capacity and skills to make a decent living, substance abuse, mental illness, etc.

“Bearing this in mind, we need to look after them to an extent, especially when contrasted with all we are doing to keep many true criminals out of prisons through bail reform, liberal policies, political appeasement, etc.”

In January 2020, there were 11,751 individuals experiencing homelessness in King County, which was an increase of 5 percent from 2019, according to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a count was not done in 2021.

However, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority noted on its website that as of May 31, 2021, 9,395 households experienced homelessness and received services in the homeless response system. In January, the figure was higher at 9,882 households.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority also provided the following data as of July 1, 2021:

Veterans represented 9 percent of the homeless population.

The homeless were divided into racial categories: 39 percent were white; 29 percent were black; 11 percent were Hispanic; 7 percent were multi-racial; 5 percent were American Indian or Alaskan Natives; 3 percent were Asian; 2 percent were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; and 4 percent were listed as unknown.

While homeless white people represented the largest racial demographic, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority said homelessness disproportionately impacted people of color when compared to the racial demographics of the general population in King County:

“The largest disparities were observed among those identifying as black or African American (29 percent in the homeless response system compared to 6 percent in the county’s general population) and American Indian/Alaskan Native (4 percent compared to 1 percent).”

In addition, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority noted that black or African American households were more likely to exit from the homeless response system to permanent housing:

“In 2020, 16.8K total households exited the King County homeless response system and 57 percent were households of color.

“Black/African American households were more likely to exit to permanent housing while white households were less likely to do so.

“White households were also more likely to exit as unsheltered or have an unknown exit destination.”

In terms of ages, the website noted that 10 percent of the homeless population were under 25; 21 percent were 25-34; 22 percent were 35-44; 19 percent were 45-54; 17 percent were 55 and older; and 13 percent were listed as unknown.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority acknowledged that measuring how many people are homeless is challenging and that no methodology can provide a 100 percent accurate count of the population.

As a result, the organization says it is inevitable that the homeless population will always result in an undercount.

Lobsenz told Seattle Times that Long still lives in a vehicle, but is currently saving for rent at an apartment. COVID-19 has made life difficult as it has impacted construction and handyman jobs he works.

In a statement communicated through Lobsenz, Long cheered the Supreme Court’s decision:

“I feel it’s great that I could help other people living in their vehicles, and this decision certainly will help a lot of people.”

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