COMMENTARY | As a criminal justice major I had to read lots of court cases about fleeing the scene of a crime, what constitutes “reasonable suspicion,” and the limits law enforcement officials may go to in regard to search and seizure. An interesting case is before the Supreme Court today, reports CNN: In 2004 a man and his girlfriend were killed in a high-speed chase with police in Tennessee after he rammed a police car, sideswiped another police car, almost struck an officer, and was finally subjected to a hail of police gunfire. The family sued and alleged that, since the man was unarmed and had not just committed a serious criminal offense prior to the chase, the police used excessive force.
Fortunately for most bystanders, gone are the Hollywood thriller days of wild police chases through crowded cities, with police cruisers vaulting curbs, churning across lawns, and smashing through fences in pursuit of a suspect. Typically, police try to avoid pursuits in populated areas, and for good reason. However, if a suspect flees and a chase is initiated, should the fleeing suspect’s original minor wrongdoing, be it speeding or a broken taillight, be factored against the suspect’s current felonious behavior?
It should not and the Supreme Court should not allow the Tennessee officers to be sued based on the decision to pursue in the first place. Declaring that suspects may only be pursued in relation to the severity of their suspected offense only encourages individuals suspected of minor offenses to engage in reckless behavior in hopes of escape. If officers are supposed to allow minor offenders to careen off into the sunset, engines racing, based on the fact that the suspects are not considered “armed and dangerous,” we will simply see a proliferation in reckless fleeing from the law.
“You got pulled over for ____________? Just floor it, man! The cops aren’t supposed to chase you.”
I believe it makes reasonable sense that anyone who recklessly flees from law enforcement is doing so on purpose, likely to hide a serious offense. There should be enough reasonable suspicion from a reckless flight to merit a hot pursuit. It should not matter if you are unarmed – your armament is your heavy metal vehicle and its ample speed. It should not matter if your initial offense was minor – your reckless fleeing is a major offense. Your running is a dangerous crime in and of itself and should be sufficient to warrant aggressive pursuit.
Running from the law must be discouraged, not encouraged.