You've seen the movies: the cop-action-hero's car blows up and he is forced to bust out his gun and his badge and commandeer a civilian's vehicle for transportation. How often does this actually happen? Is it actually even legal in the United States?

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    This Slate article suggests that, depending on the state, it is legal, but used to happen "more often". No stats on how often, so I am just offering this as a resource for others.
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 4, 2011 at 5:54
  • @Martin Scharrer: Good first question (+1). Jul 4, 2011 at 6:07
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    Obsolete discussion about a misunderstanding over an abbreviation was removed, on request. A list of common StackExchange terms and abbreviations
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 4, 2011 at 8:57
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    I'd like to point out to readers that the second part of my comment just above has been removed (not by me). Jul 4, 2011 at 16:38

1 Answer 1


Is it actually even legal in the United States? From the Straight Dope:

Second, is it legal for the police to order me around and take my stuff? The experts agree: Probably. Many jurisdictions require civilians not only to surrender their property to a police officer in an emergency but to help officers subdue suspects on command.

How often does this happen? Policeman don't do it as frequently as the movies come out, I am guessing:

For example, snopes.com found an interview with one officer who had commandeered three vehicles in a 26-year career. Blackman v. City of Cincinnati, a 1942 Ohio Supreme Court case, involves a police officer who ordered a driver to use his vehicle to chase a fleeing felon.

Because this is an international site, I have included this:

Today most jurisdictions have rules empowering sheriffs, and the police generally, to command assistance from the public. These laws are sometimes called posse comitatus ("the power of the county") statutes. Ironically, England repealed its statute permitting sheriffs to command assistance in 1967. However, Blue says, "English constables are still thought to have the power to call upon bystanders to assist them in cases of reasonable necessity."

In America:

The Supreme Court has upheld the federal government's power to commandeer private property but imposed strict limits. In United States v. Russell, the court noted:

Extraordinary and unforeseen occasions arise, however, beyond all doubt, in cases of extreme necessity in time of war or of immediate and impending public danger, in which private property may be impressed into the public service, or may be seized and appropriated to the public use, or may even be destroyed without the consent of the owner . . . but the public danger must be immediate, imminent, and impending, and the emergency in the public service must be extreme and imperative, and such as will not admit of delay or a resort to any other source of supply, and the circumstances must be such as imperatively require the exercise of that extreme power in respect to the particular property so impressed, appropriated, or destroyed.

There you are... for Americans.

Source: The Straight Dope

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    Having spoken with a couple police officers about that, they were strongly against it. Unless it was a truly exceptional case, they wouldn't even consider it as there's considerable risk in using equipment that you aren't familiar with and is of an unknown state of maintenance (compounded by the fact that it would probably be a high stress situation both for the officers and the equipment). Oct 27, 2011 at 18:07
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    This seems like it would be a violation of either the 3rd amendment right. While commandeering a car may not be exactly the same as forcing you to let them stay in your house, It seems like it is a close enough concept to still be considered a violation of constitutional rights. I'm not quite sure I understand the Supreme Court's mentality on this one...
    – Ephraim
    Apr 1, 2012 at 21:56
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    @Ephraim: I think the mentality is that judges are loath to say something is "never" appropriate if they can, with sufficient effort, imagine some vaguely-conceivable scenario where such action could possibly be considered appropriate. I think the Court should have said, though, that such actions should be regarded on its face, both at the time and after the fact, as being criminal. Many criminal codes include an explicit provision which states that for most crimes, a sufficient showing of necessity by the defendant is basis for acquittal; those rules should apply here as elsewhere.
    – supercat
    Oct 6, 2014 at 16:47
  • I'm surprised there's no mention of reparations after the fact, but maybe it's in a paragraph omitted here? Or it is implied elsewhere?
    – o0'.
    Jul 4, 2015 at 8:57

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