Can the police detain a person just because he/she ran from the police? Of course, if the police had a legitimate basis to tell the person to stop and the person ran, then the police would have a legal basis to catch and detain the person. That would require specific evidence giving the police officer reasonable suspicion of a crime. What about when the police are driving through an area, a person sees the police and just runs away? Is that sufficient to allow the police to chase the person, stop him/her and detain him/her? It could be.
In a recent case near Jacksonville, Florida, the police received an anonymous tip of people selling marijuana and crack cocaine in a particular area. They drove to the neighborhood, which they considered a “high crime area”, and saw some people engage in what could have been drug transactions. When they saw the police, they ran. The police chased them, caught the defendant and found marijuana and crack cocaine on him. He was arrested for possession of marijuana and possession of crack cocaine.
The criminal defense lawyer filed a motion to suppress the evidence of the marijuana and cocaine arguing that the police did not have a specific basis to stop, detain and search the defendant. The criminal defense attorney argued that it is not illegal to run from the police so that should not be the basis for a legal search and seizure. The court disagreed and held that the police may have a right to stop and detain people who run from the police without being provoked in a high crime or drug area when the police do not make an unreasonable show of force.
Of course, the problem with this holding is that the police can call many areas a high crime or drug area, and it would be difficult for the defendant to refute that. The police can also testify to their own opinions about whether they displayed an unreasonable show of force and whether the suspect was unprovoked when he/she ran from the police. This would also be very difficult for a defendant to refute in court. This kind of case certainly affords the police a lot of power in stopping, detaining and searching people in alleged high crime areas.