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Dear Street Smart:We have all seen countless...

Dear Street Smart:

We have all seen countless movies in which a police officer stops an unsuspecting motorist and commandeers his car in order to pursue a fleeing suspect. Rarely, if ever, do these motorists stop and question the authority of police officers to commandeer their cars for official business. Instead, they merely slide out of the way or get out and let the cops take over.

So, our question is this: Is there any law that compels a motorist to turn over the use of his vehicle to a law enforcement officer upon demand? If so, who would be responsible for any resulting damage to that vehicle while it was being so used?

David Mikkelson, San Fernando Valley Folklore Society

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Dear Reader:

The practice is more common in the movies than in real life--although it does happen. But there is some disagreement among law enforcement officials over whether the practice is even legal.

A legal notion called posse comitatus--not to be confused with the militant anti-tax group with the same name--requires able-bodied adults to assist uniformed law enforcement officers when they are requested to do so.

Those who refuse can face a fine of between $50 and $1,000, according to the California Penal Code.

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While some interpret the notion of posse comitatus to include commandeering vehicles, others say it applies only to situations such as helping an officer restrain a suspect. Even then, the officer must be uniformed.

It leaves us wondering, though, what would have happened if the driver of the convertible in “Speed” had refused to give the jogging--but out of uniform--Keanu Reeves a lift along the Santa Monica Freeway?

Dennis Zine, director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League and a former street cop, said he has exercised posse comitatus three times to take control of vehicles in his 26 years with the LAPD.

That’s three times more than most cops.

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Once he commandeered a private delivery truck. Another time he took over a city trash truck. And once he borrowed a bicycle to chase a fleeing forgery suspect. “The only bad thing about the bike,” Zine recalls, “was that it didn’t have any brakes.”

In answer to the second part of your question, the agency employing the officer who commandeers a vehicle is responsible for any damage. So if a Los Angeles Police Department officer hops in your car and demands the wheel, the city of Los Angeles would have to ensure that the car was returned to its original state.

We don’t know, however, if that includes filling the gas tank.

*

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Dear Street Smart:

I have lived in Los Angeles for 18 years. During that time, I have seen many school buses stop on city streets and roads to discharge children. Not once have I seen a school bus use its red flashing lights to warn and stop traffic while children get off--a practice I’m used to from back East. I’ve never been able to determine why. Is there some type of rule prohibiting the use of school bus warning lights in the city? Or is it something else?

Lance Diernback, Tarzana

Dear Reader:

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The reason you may never have seen a bus flashing its red lights is that the instances in which drivers must activate them are fairly limited.

According to Los Angeles Unified School District Transportation Director Alan Tomiyama, drivers are required to turn on the lights only when they leave the bus to escort children across an intersection not controlled by a signal.

If the bus lets out children in the middle of the block, the lights stay off. If the bus lets children out at a signaled intersection, the lights stay off.

But if the bus stops at an intersection controlled by stop signs and the driver knows children must cross the street, the lights must go on. The driver then must escort the children across the street with a hand-held stop sign.

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When they see the red lights, drivers in both directions are required to stop.


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