Police Gain Broad New
Power To Stop Someone
Who Merely Runs On Sight
Of An Officer
By Pamela Hess

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the police sometimes may stop and question someone who suddenly tries to run away after seeing officers arrive, a decision favoring police powers over individual privacy rights.
The high court's 5-4 decision said police officers had sufficient reason to chase after and stop a Chicago man who ran after spotting the officers arrive in a high-crime area known for drug trafficking.
The high court, controlled by a conservative majority, in recent years has generally sided with the police in curtailing the rights of criminal suspects.
The case involved William Wardlow, who ran away after seeing four patrol cars and eight officers converge on the area. Two officers pursued Wardlow and eventually cornered him in an alley. After a pat-down search, they found a revolver and five rounds of ammunition in a bag he was carrying.
The justices reversed a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court declaring that the stop violated Wardlow's constitutional privacy rights protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence.
Rehnquist said an individual's presence in a high-crime area was not enough by itself to justify a stop, but that it was a relevant factor in determining whether the circumstances were suspicious enough to warrant further investigation.
``In this case, it was not merely Wardlow's presence in an area of heavy narcotics trafficking that aroused the officers' suspicion, but his unprovoked flight upon noticing the police,'' Rehnquist said.
``Nervous, evasive behavior is a pertinent factor in determining reasonable suspicion'' to justify a police stop, he said.
``Headlong flight -- wherever it occurs -- is the consummate act of evasion; it is not necessarily indicative of wrongdoing, but it is certainly suggestive of such,'' Rehnquist said.
He said flight can help create reasonable suspicion to justify a stop.
In allowing such detentions, the Supreme Court ``accepts the risk that officers may stop innocent people,'' Rehnquist said, adding that such stops would involve a ``minimal intrusion.''
Justice John Paul Stevens said in an opinion joined by three other justices that he agreed with the court that reasonable suspicion must be determined by the ``totality of the circumstances -- the whole picture.''
But he dissented regarding the stop of Wardlow, saying the police did not have reasonable suspicion.
``I am not persuaded that the mere fact that someone standing on a sidewalk looked in the direction of a passing car before starting to run is sufficient to justify a forcible stop and frisk,'' Stevens said.
The National Association of Police Organizations applauded the ruling.
``We are gratified by the Supreme Court's 5-4 vote upholding the right of law enforcement officers to stop, question and search for weapons those persons who run away once they see a police officer. Effective law enforcement requires no less,'' said Robert Scully, the group's executive director.


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