Runnin' From The Law - Detailed Consequences From Police Officers
You're flying down the freeway at a few over the legal limit when a police cruiser fills your mirrors and lights you up. Do you pull over or pull the throttle back and make a break? With help from police departments around the nation, SSB explains why copp
It's 1:15 in the morning and you're on your way home from the spot. You know, "the spot." You're taking the highway home and are moving at a nice clip. Not like you would if you were really ridin' but still a nice clip. And then you see it on the side of the road. You just passed it. Police car, hidden on the shoulder. Your heart pounds inside your chest like a sledgehammer slamming through prison concrete. You plead to yourself, "Why me? Man, I sure hope he wasn't paying attention." But of course, the cruiser flips on the lights and pulls out from the shoulder. Damn...
Then your mind explores the possibilities. It's that age-old question that all prey confront, from antelopes in Angola to Ron Artest in Detroit-fight or flight? We've all been there, and usually the first thought is something like this: "I've got a top speed of around 170 mph, and most police cruisers top out at around 130 mph-they'll never catch me!" Ahh, the possibilities. But (if you're lucky) your mind is likewise filled with more rational conclusions: "What if they do catch me? What if I get scared and wreck? What happens then?"
Occasionally we'll hear the story about the ones who run and get away. The police couldn't keep up, and called off the chase. But, as anyone who's ever tuned in to the "World's Wildest Police Videos" television program knows, more often than not, the outcome of a police chase isn't so rosy. In one episode a motorcycle chase ended as the biker turned down a dead end. Refusing to give up, the bike made a U-turn only to be rammed by the police car before it completed the turn.
One Chicago rider we know told us of his attempt to evade an Illinois State Trooper. Around a tight turn that fed into an expressway, the trooper cut in front of him and used his car as a blockade. Unable to stop fast enough, the rider ran into the right side of the car and flipped over the hood. Fortunately, he had no injuries. The bike, however, was another story. Another Illinois rider attempting to evade police was spared his life, but was greeted by a blockade that included tire spikes on an expressway ramp. His bike was impounded and he was arrested. He served seven days in the county jail.
Other times, the results are even more tragic. In 2003, a Benton Harbor, Michigan, rider was killed as he was evading the police. The story made national news headlines as his death sparked rioting. In New Jersey, another evading biker slammed into a glass block wall that ended the chase-and his life.
Knowing the potential consequences of engaging an officer in hot pursuit is the first step in making the right decision to pull over when you see the cherries in the rearview. We want to arm you with that information by presenting detailed answers on what happens when you choose to flee provided by officers from all around the nation. The verdict? Fleeing is never the right decision. Taking a cue from both Republican and Democratic presidents when under Senate inquiry, we must first state that we have no recollection of ever running from the police at any time and we categorically deny any involvement in any such unlawful activity. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman!" Now that that's out of the way, let's discuss what the potential consequences are in various parts of the country for riders who attempt to elude capture on a motor vehicle.
California Highway Patrolman Steve Kohler, spokesman for the California Highway Patrol Headquarters in Sacramento, reminds us of this simple fact, "No matter how fast your bike goes, our radios go 186,000 miles per second." Kohler continues by saying, "Most sportbikes can out-accelerate most police vehicles, but our strategies and deployment techniques compensate adequately for that." These techniques include ground units being dispatched to intercept points, as well as aircraft pursuit. And if you don't believe these strategies are effective, well, simply ask O.J. Simpson or download the song "Ghetto Bird" by rapper Ice Cube.
Officer Kohler acknowledges that the first thought is often to run since the bikes are so fast, but he cautions that the cost of a ticket for the initial violation is guaranteed to be much lower than the other costs of the violations incurred while fleeing, which can result in imprisonment and multiple fines for each violation that occurs during the pursuit (failing to yield, crossing the center line, dangerous driving, causing innocent victims to get hurt and possible harm or death to the rider, etc.). He suggests, "If you want to go fast, go out to a racetrack and put your skills to the test with other riders that are equally equipped."
The Chicago Police Department's (CPD) policy for pursuit is a 14-page document that stresses that officers should utilize a "balancing test." This test involves an officer (a) determining whether the speeds involved or the maneuvering practices engaged in permit complete control of the CPD vehicle and do not create unwarranted danger to himself or others; (b) determining whether the volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic reasonably permits initiating or continuing the pursuit; and (c) if weather and road conditions reasonably permit initiating or continuing the pursuit.
Interestingly, the CPD policy specifically notes that pursuits should not be engaged in when the most serious offense for the vehicle is a non-hazardous traffic violation. But please do not get too excited about the "official" Chicago policies. A CPD officer who asked to remain anonymous told us, "You have some pretty gung-ho cops out there who like the adrenaline rush of a chase. All they have to do is radio in that they are in pursuit, but not give all the details." The officer continued, "Also, the police officer may radio in that he has stopped the pursuit, but continue it anyway, just so he can be in compliance with the policy."
Adrenaline and bad judgment can be a problem on either side of the radar gun. As bad as some riders want to get away at any cost, there are plenty of cops who want to catch fleeing riders at any cost. And when it comes right down to it in the courtroom a few weeks later, it's your word against theirs. Who is more credible to the judge? A speeding biker or a uniformed officer? Whether or not that officer was in compliance with the official policy at the time is pretty irrelevant in the courtroom.
What about on the East Coast? Are things better there for anyone who flees? Lieutenant Glenn Miner of the New York Highway Patrol (NYHP) told us, "We do not pursue for the sake of pursuit. These are not the old times of Smokey and the Bandit. There are other ways to catch up with these folks." These other methods involve patrol cars that have cameras that can photograph license plates for prosecution at a later date. Lieutenant Miner stated that patrol officers "weigh the hazard to the public against the benefit of catching the rider." They take into account weather and road conditions, as well. NYHP gives discretion to the supervisor on watch and the trooper involved in the pursuit. If the pursuit ends and the biker is caught, Miner relates that the total fines and the possibility of jail depends on how many laws that the biker broke during the pursuit. He states that the number one charge would be "failing to obey the lawful order of a police officer," a charge that can get you up to 15 days in jail. He said that it is also possible to get a charge of reckless driving, a misdemeanor that can bring a year in jail. But, he notes, that it is a case-by-case determination. The total bill, excluding lawyer and court costs, could possibly be well over $1000, including fines for all of the offenses committed during the chase. Depending on the circumstances, your bike could also be impounded.
What about on my way to Daytona Bike Week in Florida? Captain Robert L. Miller of the Florida Highway Patrol relates, "It's useless chasing a motorcycle unless there is a crime of violence involved." He also reminds us that the cameras in certain patrol cars have the capacity to scan three lanes of traffic and have zoom capability. So, in that sense, Florida troopers have no reason to chase. The ticket will be in the mail.
So maybe that trip to Daytona will take less time than you thought, huh? Not so fast-Captain Miller then reminded us of a Florida statute allowing a failure to stop when directed to by a patrol car can bring a felony charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail! If excess speed and recklessness are involved, the charge can be hiked up to a second-degree felony with a maximum of 15 years in jail. And if a patrol officer or another motorist is seriously hurt or killed during the pursuit, even if it is not directly your fault, suddenly you'll be facing a first-degree felony that carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in the clink. Thirty years-that's longer than some of us have been on this earth. Sobering.
So there it is. From the West Coast, Midwest, East Coast and the Dirty South, now you know the possibilities. Consider then the question posed by the punk band The Clash in their famous song "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" and the refrain that answers it:
Should I stay or should I go?
If I stay there will be trouble.
If I go it will be double.
Your brain sends a signal to your right hand. Does that hand tug the brake lever or twist the throttle? The decision you make could change the rest of your life.
What To Do When You See Blue
Words to the wise from a sportbike-riding sergeant with the Miami-Dade Police Department
Nothing short of crashing will ruin a ride like seeing flashing blue lights in your mirrors. What you do when you see lights could mean the difference between a warning and being punished to the fullest extent of the law. Believe it or not, your actions, attitude and demeanor will influence the officer a great deal. The cop has plenty of discretion at the time that he pulls you over-he can give you a simple warnin, or, in some cases, take you straight to jail-so making a good impression is very important.
For the best results, pull over immediately. Don't let the cop think even for a moment that you are considering running from him. If you spot a cop on the side of the road, brake immediately, slow to the speed limit and give him a wave when you pass that indicates, "Sorry officer, I'll slow down." Maintaining your speed indicates, "Screw you pig, come and get me!" He may be busy with paperwork, en route to a priority call, or at the end of his shift and will be content in letting you go if he sees that you are voluntarily complying with the law. However, if you don't slow down he may feel compelled to go after you. Who knows? To him you might look like a deranged lunatic fleeing a crime scene.
Let's say you blast past a cop at 100 mph, and even though you slow and give him the "Sorry officer" wave, he still pulls out and comes after you. Go ahead and pull over before he gets behind you and lights you up. If he has to drive his cruiser at 100-plus mph to catch your ass, trust me, he will not be in a charitable mood. But pulling over before you are required to lets him know that you are an honest person with nothing to hide, who is acknowledging your mistake. It makes his job easier, which could benefit you.
When you pull over, rest the motorcycle on the side stand but stay seated on the bike. Immediately turn the motor off, remove your helmet and gloves and rest your hands on the gas tank. The cop's guard will be lowered significantly, and your interaction will go more smoothly, improving your chances for a break.
If you get off the bike with your helmet on, leave the bike running, and dig through your pants or jacket looking for your wallet as you run toward the patrol car, at best the cop will be extremely annoyed-at worst, he may draw his gun on you.
Lastly, nothing can diffuse a tense situation like a smile, good humor and a friendly, upbeat attitude. And by good humor I don't mean, "Didn't I see you getting your ass kicked on 'Cops' last night?" Doughnut references don't go over well either. Remember, it's not personal. If a cop's not writing tickets, he's not doing his job. And keep in mind that even if the officer doesn't give you a break on the side of the road, he may give you one by not showing up for court. -Tom Buchanan