Federal Way leaders call for pursuit law change after nearly 70 cars vandalized in a day

Chief Andy J. Hwang with the Federal Way Police Department, along with Mayor Jim Ferrell, are demanding that state leaders change Washington’s pursuit laws. 

This move comes after a group of teens went on a crime spree, breaking into 69 cars from Feb. 10 to 11. 

Chief Hwang posted his official statement and letter to state lawmakers on the police department’s Facebook page

"After the incidents that occurred on the evening of February 10 and the morning of February 11, I feel compelled to reach out to the residents of Federal Way, whom I swore to protect, to explain the frustrations and challenges the men and women in law enforcement face to safeguard our community," said Hwang.

It all started when officers said they were sent to Dumas Bay Centre for reports of several vehicles that had been broken into on Feb. 10. Officials say that 21 separate vehicle windows were smashed, but only one item was stolen.

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FOX 13 spoke to Angela Bayler, the managing director of Centerstage Theater, who was involved with a production the night the cars were broken into.

"It was patrons, actors," she said. "We had a couple of board members that were there and their cars got hit."

The suspects involved were described as five young men, possibly teenagers, believed to be driving around in a stolen vehicle.

Two hours after the theater’s incident, another 17 cars were broken into the Commons Mall. After that, four more cars were broken into at an apartment complex.

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Police say the crime spree continued the next morning. Ten cars were vandalized at the King County Aquatic Center, and 17 more were broken into at three separate local churches.

"They had batons and they were smashing the windows and looking for whatever they could find," said Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell.

He, like the city’s police chief, is calling for change.

"Our police caught up to the suspects but, because of current laws, they couldn’t give chase," Ferrell said.

The current pursuit law prevents officers from pursuing suspects for property crimes, including stolen vehicles.

In his lengthy Facebook post and letter to state lawmakers, Chief Hwang said the law is outdated and said the fact that officers can't give chase is, "entirely unacceptable!"

"The suspects have caused thousands of dollars in damage and created dozens of devastated victims," he continued.

Hwang went on to state the increase in car thefts and other violent crimes is a direct result of the current pursuit laws. He said criminals are becoming more confident because of the pursuit laws.

"In more than 36 years as a police officer, I have never seen criminals as emboldened as they are today. I am extremely disappointed and concerned that state law allows those who wish to harm others to avoid apprehension, often without consequences, by simply driving away."

Despite the suspects getting away, Ferrell told FOX 13 he is confident law enforcement will catch the group of vandals.

"We have dash cam video of them," he said. "We know what they look like. It may take a little longer but we will catch them."