Imagine a family so imprudent as to have chosen to vacation in Seattle this summer. They are walking from their downtown hotel on their way the Pike Place Market, and as they weave through the homeless drug addicts lining the sidewalk they are set upon by robbers, who at gunpoint relieve them of their money, cameras, jewelry, and cellphones. The robbers drive off in a white Toyota.
The unfortunate tourists call 911 and provide the police with a description of the robbers and the getaway car in the hope that responding officers will spot the culprits before they can make a clean escape. An officer on patrol nearby sees a white Toyota, the occupants of which match the description provided by the victims. The officer drives up behind the Toyota and attempts to pull it over. Rather than stop for the police, the Toyota driver hits the gas and speeds off. What happens next?
A car chase, you say, at the conclusion of which the evil-doers are arrested and the stolen property is returned to its rightful owners.
Incorrect. The Toyota is allowed to drive off unmolested, the occupants free to dispose of the victims’ belongings as they please. This is Seattle, Washington, we’re talking about, where the state lawmakers, in their wisdom, have enacted House Bill 1310, which restricts the police from using force in any circumstance where they lack probable cause to make an arrest.
In the above scenario, the police have abundant “reasonable suspicion” to stop the Toyota, which until the new law took effect on July 25 was the legal standard for an investigative stop. In this case, though the car and the occupants match the description provided by the victims, there is no way of knowing if it is the right car and the right suspects without stopping them and conducting a field identification or finding the stolen property, which, constrained by the new law, the officers cannot do if the driver fails to yield. If the officers can get a license number or other information that identifies the suspects, maybe they can be tracked down at some future date, by which time the stolen property will of course have been fenced, spent, or otherwise disposed of.
That’s crazy, you say. Indeed it is, but such is the state of affairs in the progressive utopia inhabited by the sages of Olympia, who in enacting HB 1310 sought to reduce the number of violent police encounters in the state. They certainly will, but at what cost?
In two recent incidents, police officers and sheriff’s deputies declined to use police dogs to search for violent suspects because, at the time the suspects fled, they lacked probable cause to make an arrest. Similar incidents are sure to follow. Some lawmakers are now backpedaling on the legislation, saying these results are not what they intended.
Whatever their intentions, they wrote the law as they did, and police officers know the meaning of “probable cause” even if the legislators and governor do not. Until the law is modified, predators in Washington can expect little opposition from the police.
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