Dramatic rise in car thefts blamed on new Washington state law

Jan 28, 2022, 5:55 AM | Updated: Jan 31, 2022, 6:21 am
Screengrab from witness video of a stolen car crashing into police cars that had boxed the thief in...
Screengrab from witness video of a stolen car crashing into police cars that had boxed the thief in. (Video provided to KIRO Newsradio)
(Video provided to KIRO Newsradio)

Car thefts in Washington have increased by 50% since a new state law limiting police pursuits took effect at the end of July 2021, according to Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

“From around 2,000 to 2,500 stolen vehicles per month, we’re now well over 3,000 and 3,500,” he said.

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In Port Orchard, Police Chief Matt Brown estimates car thefts have increased five-fold.

On Thursday, Brown says witness video captured the scene as a driver in a stolen car crashed into police cars that had boxed the thief in. The driver eventually rammed his way free.

Despite damage to the patrol cars, “that type of assault is not considered a violent crime under current legislation regulating pursuits,” Brown said.

So the officers had to let the car thief go.

Police officers feel their hands are tied, and Strachan says the crooks know it.

“The word is out and people know about this and it’s leading to brazen disregard for the law,” he said.

Lakewood grandmother and Army veteran Sheila Davenport agrees. She says a crook recently stole her car in front of her.

“I had my hand on the door and he jumped right into my car,” Davenport said.

The thief took off in her 2020 Kia Optima and disappeared for days.

The vehicle was recovered, but “now the vehicle has methamphetamine in it,” Davenport said. “And who knows what else they’ve done in it.”

She says the illegal drugs are being cleaned out of her car, and she doesn’t know when she’ll get it back.

After complaints from law enforcement, state legislators say they’re working to improve the state’s new police pursuit law.

That appears to be small comfort to Davenport.

“I’ve been victimized more than once,” she said. “I’ve been victimized by the thief who gets away with stealing, and then I’m victimized by the legislature, and now I’m victimized by the police department,” which she says is blaming the government for allowing car thieves to get away.

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Dramatic rise in car thefts blamed on new Washington state law