How does an officer justify allowing a pedestrian to continue walking/weaving into traffic on a dark, remote highway after multiple drivers have called 911 to report the pedestrian in danger of being hit and/or causing an accident?
What needs to be justified is anything the officers do to force that person to stop walking down a dark, remote highway.That's not a throwaway line. I supervise cops, and my supervision style means I do a lot of teaching. I absolutely understand the thought process which leads to the question that was asked. Many new cops would have that same thought process. I had it too when I was new.If you were one of my rookie cops facing a situation where this guy was walking down a dark road at night, I would talk you through your enforcement options - the types of circumstances where you could make that pedestrian stop walking where he's walking.Is he severely intoxicated? Not just a little drunk or high, but so much so that he is completely out of touch with reality? If so, we can call an ambulance and force him to go with the paramedics. He has to be profoundly intoxicated though, or else they won't take him without his consent.Is he suicidal? If so, we can do an involuntary admit, but we really need solid evidence of mental illness. No, we can't spin a dumb decision to walk down a dark road as suicidal tendencies without real evidence of suicidal ideation.Can we arrest him and take him to jail? No. Not in my state, anyway. We could give him a warning or a citation for jaywalking. I've never written a jaywalking ticket, but if you're my rookie deputy and that's what you want to do, I won't prohibit you. Once you're done writing the ticket, though, you have to let the guy go. Jaywalking is not a jailable offense.Could we offer him a ride, offer to call a ride for him, or offer any reasonable assistance he can think of as a way to induce him to agree to stop walking down that road? Yes. Absolutely. We can do that. He refuses though. He says he's a grown man, and he'll walk if he wants to walk, no matter what a fascist, Nazi pig like you thinks about it.“Sir, you are causing a hazard to traffic, so we really need to get you off this road.”“What hazard to traffic, pig? When there are no cars, I walk on the pavement because it's easier. When cars come, I get out of the way. Now either write me a ticket or let me go. Am I free to go yet?”He's not drunk or suicidal. He hasn't done anything you can arrest him for, other than maybe writing a jaywalking ticket. He isn't violent.So, rookie, there is no way to get this guy to quit walking along this dark road unless you force him to do it. He's off to the side of the road now, where it's legal to walk, but you suspect that as soon as you leave he'll be in the roadway again.This is where the well-meaning, rookie cop gets himself in trouble. This guy is doing something stupid and dangerous, and motorists are going to keep calling in about him all night if he keeps walking out here. He won't listen to any reason or accept any help, and by God I can't justify just leaving him here, so I'm going to tell him he has to get in my squad car and accept a ride to at least the next town whether he likes it or not.That's what you wanted, isn't it questioner? You wanted the cop to fix the situation. It's what all those motorists wanted when they called in. It's what the rookie cop wants to do. This pedestrian is causing a problem, and the cop is supposed to fix it.He could probably tell that guy he has no choice, maybe take him by the arm and guide him to the car and tell him to get in. That would make the complaining motorists happy. It would make the person who asked this question happy. It would be exceeding the cop's legal authority, but nobody has to know, right? It's for the greater good, in the end.The problem is, the officer has no legal justification to do that. He's no longer offering solutions and suggestions. He's now giving orders and either using, or giving the impression that he'll use, force to make this pedestrian do what he wants.What happens if that pedestrian then puts up a fight? Maybe some really strong resistance that our rookie can overcome, but only by causing injury? Now you've got this guy handcuffed with a sprained elbow and a scraped-up face and blood pouring from his knee where he cut it on a rock. How do you justify the force you used? He was resisting arrest? What arrest? You never tried to arrest him. You knew you couldn't arrest him like that for jaywalking. What are you going to do with him now? Drop him off bleeding at the next town or at an ER and hightail it out of there? You can't take him to jail. You knew he wasn't a suffering a mental illness which made him a threat to himself or others, as evidenced by the fact that you didn't call an ambulance. He wasn't severely intoxicated. How do you justify your force?How does the officer justify leaving and allowing that pedestrian go on his way? It's because once the officer has exhausted all his options for getting the guy to voluntarily abandon his course, the officer can't justify any action other than letting the guy go on his way. If you asked this question, or if you nodded along and thought “Yeah! How could those rotten cops do that? They should fix that situation and keep everybody safe! ” then you have exactly the same mindset as the next cop who ends up on YouTube beating the snot out of some guy “just for walking down the road minding his own business.” May God have mercy on your soul if there turns out to be a possible racial angle to the story, because the headlines will all point out his race as though it was the most relevant factor in your bad decision.Now, give me a different situation, and I might give you a different answer. The “dark, remote highway” specified by the questioner presents a threat much less immediate than a busy 6-lane packed with bumper to bumper traffic going 80 mph. Some states may have provisions for using force against that guy even on the deserted highway. In the olden days, everyone expected cops to just use “common sense” rather than strict adherence to the law, and even today many would be OK with a cop in that situation forcing the guy into the car even though it isn't precisely legal. Most people these days have zero tolerance for cops exceeding their authority, though.So, if you're a normal human being with the normal inclination to do what is necessary to solve the problem of this guy walking down a dark highway, and you happen to be a deputy on my shift, I'll teach you that it's of primary importance to consider your legal justification for using force or giving orders. If you can't justify those things, and the guy refuses all your offers of assistance, let him keep walking, ask him to stay out of the road, and be on your way.You could swing by every few minutes to give him another jaywalking ticket if he keeps going back into the road, but you'll probably be busy with your next call by then.