Outing predatory law enforcement in Washington

(Washington, the state. Obviously. Is there another place named Washington that comes to mind when one says the word? If so, I’m not aware of it. I refuse to say ‘Washington state.’ Let other Washingtons, if any exist, add qualifiers.)

This is my farewell gift to the people of the beautiful, diverse state in which I spent thirty-nine years. I plan to update it as I learn more, so if you have experiences to share, please comment.

While it’s no secret that plenty of American small towns depend for a percentage of their revenue on police issuing ridiculous traffic tickets to tourists, Washington seems to be one of the worst in this regard. The Speed Trap Exchange is a great idea, but poorly maintained and organized. Really too bad.

My definition of a ridiculous traffic ticket is one issued for a paltry (<3 mph) violation of a stupidly low speed limit, or for deceptive signage that tends to assure that otherwise safe and careful drivers stand a fair chance to speed by innocent error. Being stopped for 10 mph over the limit on the freeway is not predatory or ridiculous: accept your ticket and pay your fine. Same for failing to heed a school zone, unless they have conveniently concealed the sign.

Town/city (County):

Bingen/White Salmon (Klickitat): quaint sailboarding heaven with a long reputation for persnickety and predatory ticketing.

Black Diamond (King): a fast-growing former rurality with great views of Mt. Rainier–and police who live to issue tickets for going 2 mph over the limit.

Brier (Snohomish): a tiny suburb of Lynnwood/Edmonds with about three police officers and no noteworthy crime. Favorite sport: radaring people on the way down a steep hill for a few mph over the limit.

Cle Elum (Kittitas): a freeway commercial loop town in a gorgeous setting–until you get ticketed for going 1 mph over the limit.

Clyde Hill (King): a wealthy western suburb of Bellevue near the SR 520 bridge with a very long reputation for eagerness to ticket. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that your Camry was likelier to be ticketed than your Mercedes, but I’m thinking it.

Colfax (Whitman): a wheat town at a major crossroads leading to WSU. An otherwise inoffensive place with a plodding speed limit for which you can expect a ticket for even 1-2 mph over the limit. Infamous as Washington’s worst predatory speed trap town. The very worst, most obvious, most blatant, most unapologetic. If you speed through Colfax, either you hail from afar and know no better, or you don’t mind tickets. It is so notorious that TV commentators joke about it on the air during Coug football games.

Naselle (Pacific): part of the whole Pacific County ticket-crazy zone. They won’t bother to ticket the massive RV slowing everyone down in violation of the law, but if you’re doing 58 in a 55, expect to be stopped–State Patrol and county deputies both have this place on lockdown.

Oak Harbor (Island): the primary town of Whidbey Island, but a combination of frequent speed limit changes and reputed different treatment for local addresses vs. tourists make all of Whidbey a ticket minefield. Side note: I once got to be part of completely legal high-speed chases against the Oak Harbor Police in one of the greatest ROTC field training exercises ever (one you couldn’t even consider doing today). They were really annoyed when we won the engagement and the E&E. Helps to be advised by Special Forces, nearly all with Vietnam combat patches.

Raymond (Pacific): Nirvana played their first gig here, and probably got a ticket for playing 2 mph over the limit. One of those towns where it looks like you’re out of town and on the highway again, but until you see a new speed limit sign, you aren’t. Police have nothing better to do than cite Seattleites headed toward Long Beach.

South Bend (Pacific): another joyous center of Pacific County’s predatory enforcement. Watch for signs like a hawk. If you have Oregon tags, or worse, California, you’re even more screwed.

West Richland (Benton): a sprawling suburb of Tri-Cities, and home to its most predatory law enforcement. Speed limits make little sense, unless the purpose is to enable officers to ticket you because, feeling bad about the locals stacked up behind you who are outraged at your respect for their city’s law, you foolishly yielded to their tailgating and decided to speed. Just pull off and let them by, especially if there are five or more–that law will be enforced for the first time on the very day you violate it.

Thank you, Washington, for thirty-nine years. When I first came, you treated me so abominably I believed I would hate you for all my days, and leave you the instant life drew me away, swearing never to return in peace.

Luckily, it got better. Your natives included my best man, some of the finest friends I’ve ever known, people who gave me opportunities and lessons, neighbors most people would ford a river of steaming sewage to have. In the end, on balance, the good far outweighed the horrors, no matter how early and harmful those were.

On balance, in years between the second Nixon and second Obama administrations, you wrought me more weal than woe. I will miss your emerald flag, your silhouette state highway signs, and your delicate curves. I was never a Washingtonian, but I hope what I gave back to you over two generations showed you my full gratitude.

I’ll visit.


8 thoughts on “Outing predatory law enforcement in Washington”

  1. I’ve been here almost as long as you, J.K. — since March, 1979 — and before that Texas was “home.” But I am NOT a Texan, even though I was raised there. My parents are Montanans and were in Texas for an oil job. Do you consider yourself a Kansan, J.K.?


    1. Yes, Christi, I do. My parents are/were Kansans who happened to be in Orange County for my dad’s first engineering job out of college/army. Kansas is home to me. How about you…have you emigrated to WA, or do you still cling to the 406?


      1. I’m a Puget Sounder. 🙂 I love Montana, but I lived there for only 2-1/2 months in 1979. My family spent every summer there, and my first “spiritual experience” — a nature aha moment — was on McDonald Pass when I was 9 or 10. When I come back to Puget Sound after any trip away, though, I get the “home” feeling more than any other place. Including MT.


      2. Quite understandable, Christi. In my case, I was happy as a child in Kansas, less so in northern Colorado and miserable in Washington until I graduated. I’m sure that has affected me longtime affinity for Kansas.


  2. 1-2 mph over the speed limit? Egads! Any individual speedometer, depending on the age of the vehicle, can have a margin of error of up to 4mph +/- . That is the general theory on why MOST law enforcement will ‘give you’ about 5 mph over the limit before pulling you over; so long as you’re cruising along with the flow of traffic and not exhibiting other C&I type actions.
    Even then, most officers here in Missouri will try to site you for something other than speeding; improper signal or seat belt violation are the favorites, that has a lower fine and no points. The State of Missouri set up an ‘education alternative’ to license points a few years ago. If the county that you received the ticket in participates, you can get a points waiver by attending a two hour class or taking an online class to get your points waived. There is a $10 fee for the class and you still have to pay the fine, but it’s an awesome way to cut the lawyers out of the loop when most folks will pay extra to have the charge ‘reduced’ to a non-moving anyway.
    I can’t wait to hear your comparison/contrast of Idaho vs. Washington law enforcement, civil service workers, utility providers, et al!


    1. Shannon, I’m not sure how it is in Missouri, but in Washington it’s a moot point unless you are willing to go back to where you were ticketed and contest it. This is why this is such a revenue item. Suppose I got a ticket in Raymond, some six hours away. To fight that ticket, I’d have to go to the Pacific County seat of South Bend and convince a judge why he should decide his county should hand back some of its secondary revenue stream. There is a fair chance I’d end up trading twelve total hours of driving plus an overnight stay for the answer ‘sorry, pay up.’


  3. You forgot all of Whidbey Island (Island county) from the moment you cross deception Pass Bridge until the moment you get onto the Clinton/Mukilteo Ferry. Travis used to commute the length of Whidbey, and there are arbitrary speed changes every couple of miles. As there is not much else on Whidbey but locals and tourists, the locals know the troopers/sheriff deputies and/or know to slow down in certain “real” ones. An Island/Snohomish/Skagit address will result in a warning. All others, a ticket. Totally ludicrous. Washington will miss you!


    1. Actually, it was not a forget, but a did not know! But now I do, and update shall happen. I plan to maintain this over time, so that it is found again…and again…and again. Thank you, and we will both miss you and Washington.


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