07 April 2013

Can a Cop Really Commandeer My Car?

I saw a scene in a movie on TV, recently, where Martin Lawrence flashes his badge at a black woman in a four-door Chrysler and demands she turn over use of the car to him and his buddy.  The badge is not a police shield, but that of a security guard, because that is what Mr. Lawrence plays in this movie, and the woman does not give up her vehicle.  She drives the two men, calmly and at legal speed, to where they want to go. 

"All you had to do was ask nicely," said the woman.
"Yes Ma'am," said the two sheepish crimefighters.

These guys weren't real cops, but you've all seen TV shows and movies where this commandeering happens.  Is it for real?

THE STRAIGHT DOPE website goes into it, in depth, and they say it is for real and list six issues involved with government law enforcement officers borrowing your property.

1.     Does it really happen?  Yes.  beat cops in New York City used to flag down taxis, to help them haul arrestees to the station, gratis.  And they have flashed the badge on non-livery vehicles as well.  It seems to be rare, though.

2.     Is it legal?  Yes, but only under certain circumstances.  In some jurisdictions, the police can borrow your car, and also impress you into service.  They could command you to assist them.   Say their bomb-sniffing dog has a broken paw and they want you to go into a building and check for explosives. 

Naw.  No way. 

I'm pretty sure you could refuse to do that chore. They can also commandeer more than just your ride.  During Hurricane Katrina, cops took over a pharmacy and handed out drugs and bandages. 

I wonder if they could impress illegal drug dealers, they know of, to help dispense their stash, to ease pain and suffering, during a catastrophe?  That would be an interesting scene in a movie.

3.     Can you be fined or punished if you don't help?  Yes, if where you live has a posse comitatus type law.  Jail time of up to a year is possible.

4.     Are there limitations to what police can demand?  Yes, of course.  reference the bomb sniffing above.  Adjectives like necessary, dangerous, futile, immediate, impending, imminent, imperative, and extreme come into play and the LEO would likely have to explain himself and his actions after the emergency had passed.

5.     Do cops have to re-imburse you for commandeered property that they damage?  Sometimes.  Just about every movie where the cop seizes the car, he also busts it up pretty bad.  That's part of the fun.  I've also seen movies and TV where the cop is driving his own personal vehicle and spots a bad guy and gives chase:  The movie Bullitt, comes to mind. 

I keep waiting for a movie cop with a nice ride to refuse to scratch it up for police business and instead parks it and commandeers the next car that is foolish enough to stop for him.

You've seen officers tear up a house or office during a warranted search.  They open up walls and cut cushions, and take up flooring.  Courts have ruled they don't have to pay for this kind of damage.

6.     If you help police and injure someone can the injured person sue you.  Probably.  You could save lives and be a big hero, and still get sued, just like the police get sued.  Courts would probably let the suit go forward and you would be out the attorney fees and court costs, and damages if you lose.

So there it is.  If some cop badges you and demands your car and/or your assistance, your life might just get complicated in a hurry.  Or you could pretend you don't see him and drive on, and he just might forget all about you when a civic-minded citizen stops for him.  Your choice. 

I was on a scout trip on an Island in Detroit Lake.  We canoed  out there and set up our camp near the north shore.  The next day two sheriff deputies came by boat to the island to arrest a twenty-something drug-addled man who had buzzed the island and wrecked his boat and generally disturbed our sleep in the early hours of the morning.  They subdued him and put him in their boat to take back to the mainland and requested a few "big guys" to accompany them.  I suspect this was to forestall any acting-up by the captive. 

I declined to help, but I should have.  The two men that went with the officers had a fun boat ride and tales to tell when they got back. 

read the article for more detail here: bust a car

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