It’s time to restore the pursuit law this legislative session | Message from the Chief

By Andy Hwang, Chief of the Federal Way Police Department

As a law enforcement leader, I am responsible for ensuring the residents we serve know the level of service the police can provide under the restrictive laws enacted by the state Legislature. Public safety requires the trust and support of the community, and our law enforcement officers need public support to do their essential job of protecting the people of Federal Way.

After the incidents that occurred on the evening of Feb. 10 and the morning of Feb. 11, I feel compelled to reach out to the residents of Federal Way, whom I swore to protect, to explain the frustrations and challenges the men and women in law enforcement face to safeguard our community.

On Feb. 10, 2024, police officers responded to Dumas Bay Centre for a report of multiple vehicles that had been broken into. In total, 21 separate vehicle windows were smashed, and an item was stolen from a single car. The suspects were described as five juvenile males in a reported stolen vehicle. Approximately two hours later, another 17 cars were broken into at a shopping center, again breaking windows as a method of entry. Shortly after, 4 additional vehicles were broken into at an apartment complex.

On the morning of Feb. 11, the crime spree of breaking into vehicles continued: 10 cars were broken into at the King County Aquatic Center, and 17 other vehicles were broken into at three separate churches. We are confident there are more unreported vehicle prowls. As the crime spree continued, all available Federal Way patrol units were deployed at various churches and major intersections in an attempt to locate the suspect vehicle and to prevent further victimization of community members.

At about 11:30 a.m. Feb. 11, a patrol officer located the suspect vehicle occupied by five individuals at the McDonald’s parking lot at Pacific Hwy S. and S. 348th Street. As soon as the suspects saw the patrol vehicle, they fled at a high rate of speed, eastbound on S. 348th Street and then southbound on Interstate 5, avoiding capture.

Even though the suspects had caused damage to 69 known vehicles (smashed windows), the officer allowed the suspects to escape capture under the current pursuit law, which prevents officers from pursuing for property crimes, including stolen vehicles. This is entirely unacceptable! The suspects have caused thousands of dollars in damage and created dozens of devasted victims. In this incident, Washington’s pursuit law protected the criminals from being held accountable, circumventing any consequences.

In more than 36 years as a police officer, I have never seen criminals as emboldened as they are today. I am extremely disappointed and concerned that state law allows those who wish to harm others to avoid apprehension, often without consequences, by simply driving away. The intentional lack of action by

the legislature will continue to encourage criminal behavior. The anti-pursuit law leaves Washington residents with a legal imbalance favoring criminals over victims.

I am unaware of any other state in our nation that does not allow the pursuit of stolen vehicles under any circumstances, including smash-and-grab business burglaries many Washington communities are experiencing. The current pursuit law has contributed to increased crime and has allowed criminals to act with impunity. After two and half years (since July 2021) of implementing the no pursuit law, people see with their own eyes the drastic changes in their communities, increased lawlessness, reckless driving, and criminals with an upper hand, adding to everyday risk to law-abiding people.

The upsurge in auto thefts and other violent crimes is a direct result of prohibiting police vehicular pursuit. Stealing a vehicle is a precursor for other crimes such as organized retail thefts, smash-and-grab burglaries, robberies, purse snatching, carjacking, spike in freeway shootings, etc. It is happening everywhere!

Washington State has seen a dramatic increase in homicides, traffic deaths, and auto theft due to enacting some of the most restrictive anti-policing laws in the nation. Insurance costs are increasing for all Washington residents partly because of the increase in auto theft claims. Many residents in Federal Way are frustrated over the inability of law enforcement to perform the public safety duties that the people expect, especially at a time when violence and crime are on the rise.

It should be the state lawmakers’ number one priority to fix the pursuit law and do what is best for the people in Washington communities. There is no time to waste. Severely limiting police pursuits statewide was a mistake by state lawmakers. It is time to fix the error.

We entrust state legislators to do something; it can no longer be ignored, as too many law-abiding people and business owners are being victimized. Removal of the blanket prohibition of police pursuits for auto theft and burglaries will improve public safety in our community and deliver a much-needed message to criminals who wish to harm others. This is the most critical public safety legislation for lawmakers this year.

As law enforcement officers, we have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution and enforce the rule of law. We will continue advocating for victims of crime who are often forgotten in this dialogue. We must get the balance right and support changes that advance public safety, not criminal conduct.

It is an honor for us to serve you!

Andy Hwang is Chief of Police of the Federal Way Police Department.