Message from the Police Chief: It’s time to fix the pursuit law

“In all my years as a police officer, more than 36 years, I have never seen criminals as emboldened as they are today,” says Chief Andy Hwang.

By Federal Way Police Chief Andy J. Hwang, for the Mirror

Following the July 25, 2021 change in Washington to significantly restrict vehicle pursuits, there is compelling data that our roadways have become more dangerous. The new law has contributed to increased crime and has allowed criminals to act with impunity.

In all my years as a police officer, more than 36 years, I have never seen criminals as emboldened as they are today. I am disappointed and concerned that state law allows those who wish to harm others to avoid apprehension, often without consequence, 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.

A bill currently being proposed in the legislature calls for a one- to two-year study of police pursuits followed by the development of a model policy, with no change to the current pursuit laws.

The safety of law-abiding residents should be the number one priority for our state lawmakers. Our communities cannot wait two more years for change. The Legislature needs to act this year to address the growing public safety concerns.

Since the law changed to restrict vehicle pursuits significantly, the Federal Way Police Department has experienced 555 vehicles (as of Feb. 13) fleeing from our officers where no pursuit was initiated. In Federal Way, we experienced a 58% increase in auto theft from 2021 to 2022, and auto theft has doubled in our community since the no-pursuit law was enacted.

In 2020, Federal Way experienced 764 auto thefts (64 on average per month); in 2021, 946 (79 on average per month), and in 2022, 1,493 (124 on average per month). The situation is getting worse. There is no reason for lawmakers to delay amending the pursuit law to reverse this unacceptable trend.

Washington State has seen a dramatic increase in homicides, traffic deaths, and auto theft due to enacting some of the most restrictive police reform laws in the nation. Preliminary homicide was up 7% in 2022. From 2019-2022 homicide is up 73%, traffic death up 11% between 2021-2022, and a 92% increase in auto theft from 2019-2022, far exceeding the national average.

Many residents in Federal Way are frustrated over the inability of law enforcement officers to perform the public safety duties that the people expect, especially at a time when violence and crime are on the rise. 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 residents.

Severely limiting police pursuits statewide has clearly been a mistake by state lawmakers. It is time to fix the error. Lawmakers should not use delay tactics. They should do what is best for the people in their communities. We are entrusting our state lawmakers to do something. It cannot be ignored — we must do better.

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.

As others seek to change our procedures in policing, we need to thoughtfully ensure that the proposed solutions are not worsening the problem. 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 J. Hwang

Chief of Police