CENTRALIA, Wash. — Centralia Police Chief Stacy Denham said his officers were frustrated Sunday when they had to let a suspected catalytic converter thief drive away.
State law prohibits law enforcement from getting involved in high-speed pursuits with anyone not suspected of driving under the influence or violent or sexual crimes.
In Sunday’s incident, Denham said someone called police saying a man had been looking underneath cars on West Magnolia Street. When officers arrived and told the man they wanted to speak with him, he got in a car, drove over a section of grass and a curb, and sped away, Denham said.
Officers followed the suspect with their lights flashing, but as he sped away, Denham said they were not able to continue their pursuit because state law prohibited them from doing so.
“I think most officers probably in this state are very frustrated with this particular law,” Denham said.
He blames an increase on car thefts and catalytic converter thefts on thieves knowing law enforcement won’t chase after them.
“We have had a lot more people running from us than ever before,” said Denham. "We want to do something about it."
Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, backed a series of police reform bills passed by legislators in 2021. In addition to limiting officers’ use of force, restrictions were placed on when they can get involved in high-speed pursuits. He said eliminating chases for non-violent crimes, like theft, will make the streets safer.
“The injuries and deaths that result from adrenaline-fueled chases do not justify the marginal speed at which law enforcement can apprehend a suspect,” said Pedersen. “We made the judgment that it is not worth endangering the lives of the police and innocent people to go solve the property crime immediately.”