East Wenatchee Police Say Crime Calls Sharply Up
East Wenatchee Police have experienced a major increase in the number of crime calls they field in the past couple of years.
The department received 7,648 calls in 2022, a slight increase from 7,582 in 2021, but a sharp rise from 6,726 in 2020.
East Wenatchee Police Chief Rick Johnson believes the major increase of 922 calls in two years is partially attributable to a policing pursuit law.
It was passed and implemented in 2021, restricting police from giving chase to suspects in cars unless they have probable cause of a violent crime or sex crime. Officers are allowed to chase drivers suspected of DUI.
The law was meant to limit the number of deaths that happen during police pursuits.
Data from the Fatal Encounters Project and Next Steps Washington, which are two citizen-led monitoring groups, show only one person has died in a police pursuit in Washington since the legislation was implemented, compared to seven in 2020 and seven in 2019.
Johnson says a number of other factors have contributed to the increase in crime calls in East Wenatchee, including a state Supreme Court decision from 2021.
"You don't get prosecuted until your third time being caught in possession of what previously had been felony narcotics, and now it's a gross misdemeanor," Johnson said. "Heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, what our public thinks of as hard drugs, we're not prosecuting those crimes."
The Supreme Court ruling known as the Blake decision tossed out the state's felony drug possession law as unconstitutional.
East Wenatchee Police also think the pursuit law has affected the attitudes and behavior of crime suspects.
They say suspects are increasingly fleeing traffic stops, knowing that the law limits officers' ability to pursue them.
A suspected catalytic converter thief recently drove away from officers, and was only caught after losing control and getting stuck in snow.
Chief Johnson says people committing property crimes now push officers to into chases.
"These suspects are familiar with the state pursuit laws, and know that we can't and won't pursue for these types of crimes, and so it really lowers our ability of getting them caught, because it isn't something where we can get them identified off of security video or off of an officer's body cam," said Johnson.
Johnson says local police don't know who the suspects are because they're typically from outside of the area.
He also says the suspects in retail crimes are using rental cars or stolen vehicles to further complicate identifying them.