A vehicle pursuit is actually an unlawful flight
United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy recently stated that vehicular flight from a law enforcement officer invites, even demands, pursuit
In a recent court decision recognizing that the act of fleeing from an officer is a dangerous felony, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated, “Risk of violence is inherent to vehicle flight. It is well known that when offenders use motor vehicles as their means of escape they create serious potential risks of physical injury to others. Flight from a law enforcement officer invites, even demands, pursuit.”
Truer words were never spoken by a Supreme Court Justice about suspects fleeing to avoid apprehension.
In all my years as a police officer, I have watched department policies and civil litigation pile the blame on officers when pursuits go bad — as if the pursuit was some sort of evil concoction contrived by a bored beat officer. The Honorable Justice Kennedy is absolutely correct, “Flight from a law enforcement officer invites, even demands, pursuit.”
Critically Flawed Solutions
In addressing the problem most have made the common error that many problem solvers make. They chose to address a symptom of the problem instead of the actual problem. The problem is not that of officers initiating pursuit. In the history of police pursuits no officer has ever initiated any pursuit. Suspects, who are bound by law to yield, initiate flight and officers, whose sworn duty it is to apprehend, follow. That flight “invites, even demands, pursuit.”
Some policies I call the “Due Care Policies.” These allow officers to continue to pursue the deranged suspect as long as they feel he is dangerous enough to warrant pursuit and the officers pursue with “due care.” When the deranged suspect kills someone, or hurts himself, the officer that continued the pursuit is often held civilly — and even at times criminally — liable for the results.
It is absurd that fear of civil litigation has allowed intelligent law enforcement leaders to arrive at such vastly different approaches to pursuits nation-wide. What is even more tragic is that these cases ruin the careers of some of our best officers and bankrupt the communities they serve.
In this time of tight budgets, legislators across the nation could save millions of dollars in litigation and simultaneously send a message of support to law enforcement officers. They just need to understand the truth in the words of Justice Kennedy and pass a law granting immunity to officers and their agencies from prosecution and civil litigation in vehicle pursuits.
There has always been a premise that this country that our system would rather see ten guilty men go free than to have one innocent man punished. Yet currently in many of these pursuits that end tragically the innocent officers doing their duty and the innocent people of the community they serve are not only punished, but punished beyond all reason.
There must be a change in the civil and legal paradigm. These dangerous situations are not “law enforcement pursuits,” but “felony flight.” To solve any problem, the problem statement must be correctly formulated. The problem is not that law enforcement pursuits are dangerous. The problem occurs when a suspect refuses to yield as they are legally bound to do, instead chooseing to initiate an unlawful flight.
A flight which “invites, even demands, pursuit.”
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