When TV cops need a car, they just pull out their badge and their gun and tell a passing motorist to get out. They then get into a high speed chase and leave a trail of mayhem behind them. Usually driving the car off the roof of a parking garage near the end. At the very minimum, the car’s going to have some bullet holes, that’s just everyday police business. Meanwhile some poor jerk is getting fired because he’s late for work again.
Can it possibly happen that way though? Does James Bond have a license to kill and carjack? Kind of. Or to put it more definitively, maybe. It’s a complicated issue. Police have commandeered vehicles before. Snopes.com has some info about an officer who had commandeered three vehicles during his police career; and a 1942 Ohio Supreme Court case involving a police officer who ordered a driver to use his vehicle to chase a fleeing felon. So it happens, or at least, it happened; but is it legal? Read on:
The legality of commandeering falls under the local area’s posse comitatus laws, so they differ with the county and state. But under most jurisdictions, police can not only take your property, but they can insist that you help them. It’s a weird gray area of the law. Constitutionally speaking, it seems like that sort of business should fall under the Fourth Amendment, unreasonable seizure. Unfortunately, cases come up so infrequently that it’s never really been challenged, and the old posse comitatus laws have stayed on the books, and even been updated. In Connecticut, for example, you can be fined up to $2,000 dollars or sent to jail for a year if you fail to assist a firefighter or police officer.
But if it even does happen to you, don’t expect to get reimbursed. It’s notoriously hard to get any compensation from the police when they damage your property. In Cincinnati, for instance, the Ohio Supreme Court refused to compensate a vehicle owner for a crash that happened after police ordered him to chase a fleeing suspect. And in Sacramento, the California Supreme Court refused a compensation claim by a convenience store owner whose store was damaged when police used tear gas to flush out a suspect who was hiding inside. That’s the way it almost always goes in that type of situation.
So my advice in the rare event that a police officer tries to commandeer your car: drive away at full speed, they’re already trying to chase one subject, they’re not going after you.