Washington ranks among the top ten states with the highest car theft rate. Statewide, vehicle thefts have increased 88% since last year.
Last July, lawmakers passed new laws that no longer gave law enforcement the the authority to pursue a suspected stolen vehicle. Since then, vehicle thefts have accelerated.
Officials say this has created an environment where criminal activity can flourish. "If we attempt to stop a stolen vehicle and it drives away, there's nothing we can do about it," said Lieutenant Jason Keil.
In July of 2021, new laws went into effect placing restrictions on the tools law enforcement have the authority to use in order to detain, pursue, or investigate suspects. Police say this has left a large gap where criminals now have the upper hand in committing auto theft related crimes. "This really empowers the criminals, the people that are committing the crime and stealing these cars, they know we can't chase after them," Lieutenant Keil said.
Since the laws changed in July, statistics show auto-thefts have increased by 93%. Officials believe this is a direct result of the restrictions placed on investigating criminal activity. Lieutenant Keil told us a stolen vehicle can lead to the possibility of more extreme crimes. "We have seen instances where stolen vehicles are used to commit other crimes, not only in our area, but statewide," said Lieutenant Keil.
"This is really about victims, this is not about the ease of us doing our job or the legislation, this is about real people having real problems that really get in a bind when they wake up in the morning and their car has been stolen," Lieutenant Keil said.
Lieutenant Keil told us protecting your vehicle from these types of crimes are never full proof, but there are preventable measures you can take. "Do not leave your cars unattended to warm up, we take a lot of stolen reports in the morning, do not leave valuables in the car, not only are they going to get an expensive car, they are going to be able to steal valuables to trade for drugs or things of that nature," said Keil.
If the current trend holds, experts say Washington could end 2022 with over 50,000 vehicles stolen. Officers say it's going to take members of the community looking out for one another to reduce crime and contribute to safer neighborhoods.