PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Running away from a police officer trying to arrest you is not illegal in Pennsylvania, at least if you are trying to flee on foot.
One state senator is trying to change that.
Many of us grew up being told never to run from a police officer. And we probably thought it was a crime to do. It turns out, it’s not yet against the law.
“It’s a serious deficiency in the crimes code,” PA Sen. John Yudichak, an Independent from Luzerne County, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.
It may sound a bit crazy, but fleeing an officer who wants to arrest or detain you for a suspected crime is only an additional crime if you resist that arrest with force or drive away in a vehicle.
If you’re running away on foot, it may not be smart, but it’s not a separate crime — yet.
Fleeing a police officer on foot will become a crime under S.B. 814, sponsored by Yudichak and approved 36 to 14 by a veto-proof bipartisan group of state senators.
“When a police officer tells you to stop, when a police officer tries to place a suspect under arrest, it is not your right to put that police officer or the public in danger by evading arrest,” Yudichak said.
The bill would allow district attorneys to charge fleeing suspects with a separate crime from a summary offense to a felony depending on injuries caused to police officers and bystanders by the fleeing individuals.
“This is not necessary. We don’t need a specific offense that criminalizes fleeing from an attempt to not only arrest but detain,” said Liz Randol, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
Randol said over-criminalizing is a bad legislative habit, and this new crime, she says, will be targeted at people of color.
“It’s usually done now. When people run, they get shot in the back. They get a knee on their neck for nine minutes,” Randol said.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: State Reports 9,143 New Cases, 128 More Deaths
Yudichak said this does not criminalize innocent people protesting or even walking away from police.
“If you are peacefully protesting and police officers are trying to disperse a crowd, you walk away. That is not a crime. That is your constitutional right to protest,” says the senator.
“We feel this bill has potential to run roughshod over those constitutional protections,” noted Randol.
Yudichak notes the strong support for this measure.
“Broad bipartisan support, 36 of the 50 members of the Senate supported it,” Yudichak said.
“There was opposition primarily from the ACLU, which argued that it’s your constitutional right to evade arrest. That is an absurd argument to me,” Yudichak said.
Attorneys at the ACLU said this bill is unnecessary and violates constitutional protections against unreasonable seizures. They also worry prosecutions will be targeted against persons of color.
“The more you add ad hoc criminal offenses to our criminal code, it adds more offenses for police to enforce often selectively sometimes. It allows prosecutors and DAs to stack those charges,” Randol said.
The bill also makes it a crime to harm a police animal like a K-9 while evading arrest or detention. Only two state senators locally voted against the bill: PA Sens. Jay Costa and Lindsey Williams.MORE NEWS: COVID-19 In Pittsburgh: Allegheny County Reports 653 New Cases
Yudichak said he expects strong support in the state House and predicts passage before the end of the year.