When is it ok for police to chase?
When is it ok for police to chase, and can they be liable if someone is killed in the process? Recently, Police officers with the City of Pearl, Mississippi pulled a suspect over for a traffic stop. The suspect made the decision to flee, and the officers chased him until he crashed into and killed a postal worker.
Was this chase legal? Probably not. The Pearl Mayor conducted a press conference where he vehemently defended the actions of the police officers. But when he was asked the questions that determine whether the chase was legal or not, he refused to answer stating that “it was under investigation.”
In our society, communities expect all people to be reasonable with their actions. If a suspect has a kidnapping victim and a gun in his car, the dangers are clearly imminent. Police should do everything in their power to stop the suspect, even if it could bring harm to other innocent citizens in the community. However, if the suspect is stopped for speeding and is not suspected of being involved in an imminent threat of violence, then it is not reasonable to engage in a high-speed pursuit that creates a dangerous risk to the community.
Police officers should chase only when it is reasonable under the circumstances. Police departments should have written policies available to the public that describe the circumstances when the dangers of a chase are outweighed by the dangers of apprehending the suspect in a more controlled environment. When asked about the policy, the Pearl Mayor told the reporter to contact the city clerk’s office. The policy does not appear publicly available on the city’s website. The Mayor apparently takes the position that any time a suspect flees, it necessarily implies he’s a danger to the community and that any high speed chase is reasonable. The Mayor is wrong. He fails to consider the time of day, the weather conditions, whether violence is imminent, and a host of other factors that should be determined to decide whether to risk the death of a postal worker to give someone a traffic ticket or arrest them on some old warrants. The mayor assumes that just because a suspect is being unreasonable that the police officer can also take unreasonable actions. Two wrongs do not make a right.
In this particular case, the Pearl Police officers chased the suspect into the City of Jackson. Much ado has been made about whether it is ok to chase a suspect into another jurisdiction. This is really not the issue. There is law that allows officers to chase into another jurisdiction, but that doesn’t change whether the chase was reasonable to begin with.
In this case, with an apparent bad policy of chasing anytime a suspect flees without any regard to balancing the risks to the community, the City of Pearl is likely just as liable under the law as the person they chased.
So, while it is appropriate for police to give chase in limited circumstances, it is not reasonable to do so when more harm is likely to be done to the community by chasing. From the facts given at the Mayor’s press conference it appears the City of Pearl may very well be liable to the family of the postal worker for initiating the chase that ended his life.
If you or a loved one have been injured as a result of a high-speed police pursuit, contact the experienced attorneys at Chhabra & Gibbs, P.A. Where we have achieved positive results for families under similar circumstances. We can be reached at 601-948-8005. And as always, evaluation of your case is free, and we charge no fees unless we collect for you.