No reasonable cause means no high-speed pursuit.
On August 31 2021, a woman in Auburn called 911 to report her Lexus RX as stolen. Unfortunately, the car wasn't nabbed under cover of night but forcibly removed from her possession at gunpoint. The RX was equipped with a tracking device, which pinged one day later on September 1. The local police chopper, called Guardian One, just happened to be in the area on an unrelated call and tracked the Lexus down to an apartment complex.
Here's where the situation gets a bit tricky. Guardian One noticed a male passenger leaving the vehicle from the rear seat and another from the front passenger side. Neither passenger could be identified. As patrol units arrived at the location, the RX drove out of the apartment parking lot. It drove right by one of the first responders.
Guardian One and the ground patrol continued to follow the stolen vehicle but eventually fell behind after running short on fuel. In short, the driver of the Lexus got away. Dodge's new pursuit vehicles probably aren't available in Auburn yet.
How is this possible? Well, it concerns the inability to identify the driver, probable cause, and state police reform laws. Basically, the police could not pursue or engage because there was no probable cause. Since a day had passed, it could have been anyone in the car. The new laws prohibit pursuits unless the police have reason to believe (probable cause) that the person in the car has committed a violent crime or sex offense.
The State Representative, Jesse Johnson, who was part of the team behind the reform laws, stated that the Auburn police "probably" used the right course of action. To us, this seems nearly as shambolic as that time the Fremont police's Tesla ran out of electricity during a pursuit.
This may seem like a silly law, but there is some sound logic behind it. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 102 people were killed in police pursuits between 1996 and 2015. These figures are for Washington state only.
Then there's the actual context of the low-speed pursuit in this particular case. It was around 3.30 pm, and there were many pedestrians in the area, and traffic was starting to back up. According to Johnson, there were too many lives at risk for a high-speed chase.
This makes some sense, but it seems the police are still not quite sure what they are and aren't allowed to do. Johnson mentions another incident where a driver was on the wrong side of the road in a stolen vehicle. The police on the scene decided they did not have probable cause according to the new reform laws. Other officers commented after the fact, saying that driving on the wrong side of the road is suspicious enough to stop a car for a possible DUI.
The vehicle was eventually recovered on September 4, and nobody was harmed. Other times the crims end up catching themselves by doing donuts and running out of fuel, as a Dodge Challenger driver found out recently.
In the interest of fairness, we felt it relevant to refer to a recent police chase in Florida, showing how badly things can go wrong in peak hour traffic.