Would You Pursue Fleeing Burglars or Wait on Police to Arrive?

Your home has just been burglarized. You were away while it happened so you check your surveillance cameras to get a bead on who it was who took your stuff. You’re able to get a good look at who it was.

Later on, while you’re out driving on the road you suddenly see the suspects pass you in another vehicle. Either way you’re calling the police, but do you wait on law enforcement to arrive before confronting the suspects or do you, knowing that you’re armed, pursue them yourself?

Chris Wyatt, an Alabama homeowner, found himself in that situation on Friday afternoon. He made his decision — he wasn’t going to wait on police.

“They happen to drive by and we seen them drive by and we knew it was them and we stopped them,” said Chris Wyatt of the suspected burglars who stole from the home two TVs and several Christmas presents.

Wyatt and another family member held the suspects at gunpoint until the police arrived.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene and apprehended a man and two women in connection with the incident. Investigators have yet to release their identities but Wyatt is positive it’s them.

“They broke into another house before this and luckily their stolen stuff was still in that vehicle,” Wyatt told WBRC, referring to a neighbors house that had also been burglarized. That neighbor was brought to the scene and identified several of the items in the suspects’ vehicle as his own.

As for getting their stuff back, Sarah Wyatt, Chris’s wife, said, “Sure hope so, if they don’t, at least we’re all safe and in one piece and they are off the street for now.”

Put yourself in Chris’s shoes. Would you pursue the suspects or would you wait for police to arrive before confronting them?

{ 32 comments… add one }
  • Jesse Scott August 28, 2017, 6:21 am

    Pursuit is the resulting action from wanting revenge. Even if you catch them they will figjt back like an animal. If you shoot, you go to jail. Better to savor the enjoyment of protecting your prpoerty and family.

  • Bobo January 27, 2017, 11:02 am

    Back in the early ’70’s I worked for a financial institution and contracted with a repo firm to repo a truck. The repo guy told me in that part of Texas the owner could use deadly force if you were taking his vehicle at night but not during the day. I guess it dated back to the Wild West and horse thieves.

  • ExGob November 13, 2015, 7:17 pm

    While we all have opinions, valid and otherwise, a fact of law is that we have no legal right to take any direct action against any other person or persons in the absence of, at least, a perceived threat of death or severe bodily harm to ourself or another innocent person or persons. Certainly, if the perpetrator is fleeing, there is no threat. Pursuing the perp makes you the aggressor.

    • Israel July 11, 2016, 12:21 pm

      Where does citizens arrest fit into this kind of scenario?

  • James January 3, 2015, 11:59 am

    Right and wrong no longer matter in the American system of “justice”. I went out to investigate a disturbance on my property with a pistol and was told by the local LEO that if something happened and I shot someone outside, that I could be perceived as the aggressor by a jury of my “peers”. So now I wonder about the wisdom of my actions. Also, I think about the inconvenience of being shot, even if it is in defense of property. I would rather let my vehicle be destroyed or stolen then risk permanent injury to myself. But every situation has unique parameters. Practice thinking before engaging. Work out scenarios in your mind long before they happen. I have a third degree burn on my right hand because I didn’t fully think out possibilities. But lack of action would have seen my house burn down. Sometimes there is little or no time to think.

  • AD Roberts January 3, 2015, 1:27 am

    The laws make it so that the life of the criminal is more valuable than your goods that may be your entire life. Therefore if you pursue him, you must be careful NOT to shoot him. lest he sue you for “felony assault”. If you catch him and make him believe that you WILL shoot him, to hold him till LEOs arrive, you will not be in trouble. But the criminals KNOW that and will continue to run.

  • Mickey Rat January 2, 2015, 2:30 pm

    Illegal in most states and a bad idea. Get tag number and maybe follow at a distance. Deadly force in defense of property is illegal and morally wrong.

    • mickey mouse August 31, 2017, 8:41 pm

      good comment and generally advisable but for arguments sake pursuing a criminal is not necessarily using deadly force. No one has ever been shot after I told them to pick up their dog’s poop from my yard If you are assaulted while in pursuit of thieves and you defend yourself with deadly force i think that may be a different argument

  • BRASS January 2, 2015, 12:50 pm

    Follow or chase? I might follow if I thought I could do it safely and by doing so insure police could find them when they would be unlikely to do so otherwise.
    Would I chase them with the intention of confronting them when off my own property? Very unlikely as I would be giving up several tactical and safety advantages while investing them with the motivation to come back after me or otherwise act in a dangerous manner. This also would open me up to prosecution on any number of charges should something go wrong. In some states if they wreck their car because they know you are chasing them and one of the crooks or an innocent dies during or as a result of the chase, I would be liable for both criminal and civil violations.
    The jury would be asked to evaluate your actions against what a prudent man would do.

  • david January 2, 2015, 12:42 pm

    Pursue. In the sense of watch and report. No way would I engage as I am not a LEO. The only time I would is if my life were in danger from the burglar.

  • tom January 2, 2015, 11:37 am

    If I read my Georgia (where I am located) law correctly. And I did as the above Alabamians did.
    I might or might-not get away with it.
    Taking it further. Let’s say that the perps in the vehicle decided to fight fire with fire and pulled weapons of their own to defend themselves.
    I would be in the wrong. I would have started this gun fight without any legal standing. I wouldn’t have been defending anything.
    I would have been the perp.

    • Jb August 29, 2017, 1:40 am

      IT IS SUCH A SAD TRUTH TO OUR TIMES. THAT WE. ANY HARD WORKING LAW ABIDING PERSON HAS TO HIDE IN OUR HOMES LIKE RABBITS AND LET THE CRIMINALS DO WHAT EVER THEY WANT TO US BECAUSE THE LAWS WILL PROTECT THEM
      NO WONDER SO MANY GOOD PEOPLE COMMIT SUICIDE RATHER THAN LIVE IN A SOCIETY LIKE THIS. I FEEL THE SAME WAY AS THE.THE DECEASED ONES DO

  • Michael J. Salzbrenner January 2, 2015, 11:16 am

    Personally, the only time I draw my weapon is to equalize a threat. Following them? Yes I would probably do that. Stop them? No. Hold them at gunpoint? Only in the instance that I feel there is no other options to defend myself. Honestly, taking their life isn’t worth a pile of materialistic crap that I don’t really need anyway. But, then again, I’m not as materialistic as some others are. I would be more interested in getting the thief(s) off the street and seeing them brought to justice. But unless they present themselves as a threat, then I have no interest in instigating a confrontation and forcing the issue.

  • Terry January 2, 2015, 11:13 am

    Absolutely not! I am not sworn law enforcement and just because I have a CCP it doesn’t confer on me some special right to act as though I am. Call the police, keep your distance, and provide all the information possible to assist in their aprehension.

  • Russ December 22, 2014, 6:07 pm

    Wow!…. Good for those guys.
    Personally, I would never want to be a LEO these days, or play cops buy arresting someone.
    You ask what I would do ?
    I would be taking pictures of them, and their vehicles, probably with my phone.
    I would be calling the police with that information while I tailed them inconspicuously.
    I would follow all advice the police gave me over phone.

  • BRASS December 22, 2014, 12:03 pm

    In most instances I would not. I may follow them to obtain a plate number or other reason but trying to physically stop and hold them presents a variety of serious problems. Without knowing the mental and physical state of the assumed robber you have no way of anticipating their reaction. Burglars are often drug abusers and drug abusers are often irrational in their actions. There are so many things that can go wrong, fatally and legally wrong that the jeopardy is probably not worth the risk. Consider the presence of innocents in the vehicle that you try to stop if a gun fight ensues or is involved in an accident. It is not uncommon for occupants of vehicles used in robberies to be unrelated or unaware of the robbery. I know of a young man just home from the Marines who thought he was driving two students he met at the college he was enrolled in and whom didn’t have a car to run some errands only to find he was unwittingly the getaway driver after a robbery gone bad. He was arrested and it screwed up his life for years. Imagine if a gun fight broke out and he was killed in the process?

  • Doc Loch December 22, 2014, 9:06 am

    I also would be inclined to say that I wouldn’t have gone after them myself. However, having said that, I would also feel pretty low, if I was given such an opportunity as this citizen to make an arrest, but being trained as most ccw’s are, I declined to do it. Then what if I learned on the news the next day that these same burglers had entered a residence, raped and killed the occupants including 3 small children and a baby. Now you have the “spiderman syndrome.” You just told the world “I don’t see were this is my problem,” when the thief goes by you, but then he goes on (as most criminals do) to create other victims, Granted the legal system allows us to opt out, and maybe even requires us to do so. I, however, hope that day never comes, because I think I would have some pretty major emotional and mental issues if the scenario I decribe above ever played out for me. Letting a criminal go when we have the power and ability to stop them seems no different than letting a criminal go in any other situation. Why are juries selected from peers? Maybe we should have trained law enforcement juries who are better at determining “reasonable guilt.” I don’t know the answers to this, but it certainly isn’t as cut and dried as we’d like to make it.

  • Charles Anton, Jr. December 22, 2014, 5:33 am

    To walk in on a crime in progress is one thing; but, pursuing a suspect or suspects at a later time when they pose no threat to you is simply begging for uneccessary trouble. I conceal carry and I believe the biggest part of being a responsible gun owner is knowing when to react to a situation and when to allow law enforcement to do their jobs!

  • gary December 22, 2014, 4:09 am

    I’m not a cop, so no pursuit or detention.
    They get out of my residence, leave to the cops.

    • Bruce Coleman December 22, 2014, 8:06 am

      I read all the response and I agree with your thoughts on this subject.

    • Jimonthebeach December 29, 2014, 2:21 pm

      I carry a concealed firearm to protect myself and my family. I’m also retired military and law enforcement officer and I agree with Gary. “Citizen arrest” laws vary from state-to-state. If you choose to make a citizen’s arrest, you’d better pray that the suspect you arrest gets convicted, because if he or she gets off, you can count on facing a horrible false arrest suit. Likewise, pursuing or shooting at a suspect who does not present a direct and immediate threat to your life or the life of another may get you a stiff prison sentence. In most instances, even law enforcement officers are not allowed to shoot suspects who do not represent an immediate threat of death or great bodily injury to the officer or other member of the community. Even if you think you are fully justified using deadly force, you may still wind up in criminal court defending your actions. That is a costly battle and it may not end with an acquittal in criminal court. You may still face civil litigation where the standard of proof is greatly reduced. After all of that, you may still face a Federal Civil Rights charge. Look at the George Zimmerman case. He killed Travon Martin who Zimmerman claimed was pinning him to the sidewalk and trying to bash in his skull. Because of extreme community and public pressure, Zimmerman was charged with murder. He was acquitted, of course, but defending himself left him penniless and deep in debt. He was sued by Martin’s family and there is still a pending Federal civil rights investigation. Using force, especially deadly force, against another person should always be a last resort. Leave pursuit and detention to the cops.

  • teebonicus December 18, 2014, 11:46 am

    They’re lucky they weren’t arrested themselves. People not sworn to law enforcement cannot legally detain even known suspects in public unless its to stop a forcible felony in progress. The law allows more latitude in a home or business, but even then, not much.

    Under the circumstances described above, the right (and LEGAL) action is to maintain observation from a safe distance and get the cops on the line.

    What they did could easily have ended in a catastrophe.

    • Larry Albertson December 19, 2014, 1:12 am

      While my information may be out of date, when I worked as an Alarm Tech in California, I had to take a powers to arrest class to be allowed to go armed on the job. The point of the class was that we had no power to arrest outside that of any person to make a Citizens Arrest. Point your weapon at someone state you are making a citizens arrest, state the crime and pray you were correct. Right or wrong you were likely to end up in court. I believe that Citizens Arrest is still legal in most if not all states.

      • Chuck December 26, 2014, 3:52 pm

        Citizen’s Arrest has been around forever. A general discussion of its potential use and limitations would take days, but in the case reported above I suggest the best action would have been that described by “teebonicus” above.

        Shooting an unarmed fleeing suspect who is not physically attacking you is a bad decision in any case, and apprehending/holding one at gunpoint is insanely risky – almost as risky as trying to apprehend one who IS armed. Using lethal force against someone who stole something and departed the scene, even if he broke a window or door to do it, is questionable – you, the victim, will certainly end up in court. Discretely following the suspect while contacting the police (even welfare recipients have cell phones these days!) is the right thing to do. Let the cops make the apprehension. They may ask you to make a citizen’s arrest (because they weren’t present at the scene of the crime) or they may make the arrest based on evidence available at the scene of the apprehension. It’s just safer, both physically and legally, to allow – nay, FORCE, the local LEOs to do their job. Of course, if the perp is crashing thru your front door with a gun or other potentially lethal weapon, you have no choice, and you’re armed and able to defend yourself, then all bets are off – and hope you live in a state that’s adopted the Castle Doctrine!

        • AD Roberts January 3, 2015, 1:30 am

          We are no longer free.
          We are no longer brave.
          The criminals have all the rights.
          And we get to give up what we worked for.
          Because of this, the hearts of ALL the people are turned to wickedness and sin and theft.

    • SB December 22, 2014, 9:21 am

      “People not sworn to law enforcement cannot legally detain even known suspects in public unless its to stop a forcible felony in progress.”

      While I agree stopping someone you believe has committed a crime in your presence is a high risk action and should not be taken lightly by anyone

      What you said above does not comport with the what occurs daily there are a number of problems with it. Rather that go off on a Rabbit Trail… Let’s just focus on one part of the issue at had.. A crime in progress.. which includes the escape.

      . If it did a storekeeper could not detain a shoplifter who steals less than $500, $700 in goods (Felony levels vary State to State). Shopkeepers are generally required to wait until the thief steps out the door before effecting a detention/arrest and the person is subject to a search for the goods by the Shopkeeper or their agents..Courts have allowed this it is done all the time for much less than felony level values

      I agree caution is the word in such matters the laws are complex and arcane .. and I would urge everyone to perform due diligence. Get the facts on this issue based upon their own State Laws.. (I would even get a written (not verbal) opinion from Council in advance should this be a consideration and possible course of action at some future point.

      Disclaimers out of the way…

      IMO and to the best of my understanding…

      If a peace officer says someone is under arrest they cannot flee or attempt to flee without an additional crime being committed..

      If as a citizen you tell someone they are under arrest (you do not have to say “Citizens Arrest” as Police Arrest Powers are derived from you the Citizen not the other way around) (Do cite the suspected crime.) Still that does not stop them from fleeing and you may be required to use force or allow them to leave.

      If you use force your now subject to potential false arrest false imprisonment charges.
      Keep in mind the DA or Police may not accept your interpretation of the facts… and see what you believe to be a crime as a crime..or reasonable action as reasonable… mmm?

      Civilian Police may arrest upon suspicion of a crime which has taken place without them directly witnessing it.. (out of their presence)

      As a citizen you may not.. That is a different power.. That you the citizen granted the civilian police.

      However a crime in progress (shop lift, burglary suspects in the process of escaping) logic and previous experience dictate one can stop them as they are trying effect their escape.. Can does not mean should…(See previous concerns above)

      We really have to find a balance… it seems a shame for someone to lose their life over property (when you stop someone they may chose to fight and someone may lose their life) At the same time .. it is inarguable honest folks with little to lose can be pushed over the edge into poverty by the loss of their property… for example: by the theft of their only car they cannot replace nor get to work without in short order they may lose everything else they own. Something not enough attention is paid to by the people and the courts.

      I think the Bible has it right.. Thief at night dies?… no blood on the head of the residents of the home.. During the day there is room for a little more compassion, for the criminal if you will on the part of the victim.. However I believe there is no requirement for that as all have an obligation to defend innocent life… even their own. The value of property to the person owning it is subjective and the decision to use force to defend it lies with them… but they are subject to review by others …by prosecutors who may have another opinion or worse an agenda.. A very thorny place to hop into.

      Texas appears to make provisions in their laws for the use of force to defend property even someone else s.. Perhaps there are other places as will I do not know of..

      Shooters are fortunate as we know we cannot “Take Back the Bullet” once fired.. that there are unavoidable consequences to our actions..

      Prudence and Caution in all things is required.

    • Brent Boyd December 22, 2014, 12:19 pm

      Come on this was in Alabama – the thieves were lucky the homeowner didn’t blow their brains out, dump them in the river, and keep the truck.

      • Mike December 22, 2014, 1:07 pm

        You are showing your ignorance of those of us who live in the south

      • M. Durham January 2, 2015, 9:23 am

        What an unkind thing to say concerning those of us who live in Alabama.

    • Mark Wynn December 22, 2014, 1:55 pm

      I would pursue — because I’m a curmudgeon, a retired military, and take such things personally — but only to help law enforcement locate the perps. Once an intruder departs my house, the legal ramifications change significantly.

      • paching January 2, 2015, 6:43 am

        I agree.. I would call the po po, pursue, write down plate numbers, descriptions and watch from a safe distance while waiting for the badges to show up. I wouldn’t have done what this victim did.. too much to risk.

    • nate January 2, 2015, 11:32 am

      WRONG! Citizens do have the right to arrest someone. Where do you live? Iran?

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