PO police remain handcuffed by vehicle pursuit restrictions

Eludes up a staggering 355% since ‘21

The ability for law enforcement to pursue vehicles remains flatlined despite last year’s legislative changes, while the number of criminals eluding Port Orchard officers continues to climb, a new report says.

Data from the 2023 Professional Standards Report, an annual document published by Port Orchard police, states incidents of criminals fleeing police have increased substantially each of the past two years and gradually over the past half-decade. A total of 50 eludes were reported in 2023, over 80% of which were categorized as traffic stops or suspicious activity. That marked a 61% increase from 31 eludes in 2022 and a staggering 355% increase from just 11 eludes in 2021.

Past reports indicate 2023’s elude count was higher than the combined totals from the four-year period between 2019-22, whereas the number of POPD pursuits have amounted to just one in each of the past three years.

The report indicates the single 2023 pursuit “involved a person suspected of driving under the influence. The pursuit only lasted a few miles, at which point the patrol supervisor canceled the pursuit for public safety reasons.”

Port Orchard police chief Matt Brown said the numbers reflect the department’s continued struggles that give criminals the choice to not pull over for law enforcement.

“The big issue is not being able to pursue when it’s reasonable really kind of gives criminals the ability to say, ‘I don’t need to stop today. If I can reach my car, I’m free to go,’” Brown said.

Law enforcement statewide has heavily advocated for less restrictive measures on their abilities to go after criminals over the past two years. In 2021, state lawmakers passed controversial legislation that set the threshold needed to legally pursue a vehicle at “probable cause” and limited the types of crimes that could qualify for such chases.

Despite equally contentious changes in 2023’s legislative session that lowered the threshold needed for a police pursuit, Brown said virtually nothing has changed for the better for his officers.

“It changed the language from probable cause to reasonable suspicion, but it is still incredibly limited to a certain number of crimes,” he said.

The POPD also reported it had an average of 41 calls per day, or 15,152 total, considered to be a “modest decrease” from 2022’s 16,508 calls. Brown indicated a future more in-depth report will show the police department is overloaded and short-staffed. “2022 was our busiest year on record, and 2023 was essentially our second-busiest,” he said. “As we struggle with staffing, and we’re bringing new people in, it’s harder when you’re working at these high volumes of calls.”

Brown said he does anticipate employee numbers to be healthier as the year goes on. “We have about twenty-four on the books right now. The issue is we’ve got a lot of people, you know, going to the academy or just graduating,” he said.