You're Nicked, Chum
posted 12/26/2002 / updated 04/13/20003
If you've had the misfortune of watching a lot of old TV shows (and they really weren't any better in the 1980's than they are now), it's likely you've seen an actor somewhere perform a citizens' arrest. People make jokes about it, but what many don't know is that there is, in fact, such a beast.
Most states in the U.S., and many other countries, have provisions for one private citizen to arrest another. The easiest way for you to find out about your own state is probably to check the internet; type something like "Citizens' Arrest -mystate-" into Google or your favorite search engine, and see what you get, or you could always just call your friendly neighbourhood police department.
The powers of arrest conferred on private individuals varies from state to state. In many states, an individual may arrest another if the perp (a technical law enforcement term, short for "perpetrator") commits a crime in the individual's presence. While many states have other conditions, this is one of the most common, and easiest to understand. Common sense should prevail, of course, and please keep the police in mind. It would be stupid for an individual to try and arrest a bank robber with a gun, but a teenager egging your garage probably poses no real threat. At the same time, the police aren't going to be too happy having to stop by and write a report because you nabbed someone for spitting on the sidwalk. Always consider your safety, and the severity of the crime, before trying to detain someone, and remember, I'm not a lawyer, I don't know what I'm talking about, and anything you go out and do is your own fault, not mine, so don't even think about suing me.
Speaking of detention, make sure that you're actually able to detain someone before doing so. Most states allow you to use the "minimum necessary force" to detain a suspect, while others only allow citizen's arrests of unresisting suspects. If your state permits you to stop a suspect, and you have the cojones to actually arrest someone, you may be well advised to purchase a pair of handcuffs for this purpose. Make sure you get a pair of real handcuffs, such as Peerless, or Smith and Wesson, and not a toy pair made of tin. Learn how to use them, and become familiar with them before using them for real. Check your local laws, first; some cities don't permit private citizens to own handcuffs...
Okay, so some fifteen-year-old punk with blue hair was spray-painting his name on your garage and you caught him. Because you're a big, bad homeowner who did their research, you know that in your state you can legally perform a citizen's arrest on someone committing a misdemeanor in your presence, and use (the minimum necessary) force to restrain them. After getting the suspect (who is probably crying at this point, or cussing, or both) into handcuffs, and fulfilling any other legal obligations (such as saying "You are under citizen's arrest for vandalism"), what do you do?
Call the police. If you've got the kid in handcuffs, and seated on the ground, it's not an emergency, so don't call 911 / 999. Your police department has a non-emergency number, and you'd do well to learn it. Call them, and explain that you've got an indivudual in custody for vandalising your garage (or whatever they were doing when you busted them). They'll send an officer to take a report. There's pretty much nothing you can do but wait. In most states, there's nothing else you can legally do to the suspect - searching him, for instance, or putting the boot in a few times - so resist any such urges you might feel. When the officer arrives, explain what you've done, being sure to include all the necessary detail ("I was in my bedroom at the back of the house at about 6:30 when I saw this individual hanging around in the alley. I grabbed a flashlight and handcuffs, went outside, came around the far side of the garage and found him in the act of spray-painting the side of the garage, which I own. I told him to stop, which he did, grabbed him, placed him under citizen's arrest, put him in handcuffs, and called the police.") he or she might need to know. You'll probably have to make a formal, written statement as well. It's not terribly difficult. Much of the same aplies to public offenses, as well. "I opened my garage door to take a bag of garbage out and found this individual kneeling behind the garbage cans, with a length of cord tied around one arm and a syringe in his hand..."
It's always dangerous to confront a criminal, no matter how small, weak, or stupid they appear. Many are armed, many are violent or will resist you, and most just plain smell bad. There's such thing as a criminal mind, of course, but there doesn't seem to be criminal hygeine. Odd, that. While you are the best judge of your abilities, it's probably not a good idea to arrest criminals, even if you are permitted to, if there's any good way to identify them. For instance, if you came upon the kid spray-painting your garage, and he was wearing a letter jacket with his name and class year on it, you might just note his name and class, and chase him off, then call the police and make a report. Likewise, if someone's in a car, just get the description and license plate, and give that to the police. No criminal is worth endangering your life for.
Even with the risk, and all the laws and conditions that apply, the knowledge and ability to arrest someone if you need to is certainly a good thing to have. There was a time, once, when neighborhood watches and community involvement meant something, but they have gone the way of the vacuum tube, the dodo, and the honest politician. When you live in an age where violent crimes are committed in broad daylight, but nobody "sees anything", and most people who witness crimes just look away, not wanting to get involved, criminals become incredibly brazen - but also incredibly stupid. If every big, strong man and woman went around with the knowledge, confidence, ability and determination to stop those they saw perpetrating crime, well, maybe criminals would think at least once before stealing, dealing, robbing, or vandalizing. At the very least, knowledge is always a good thing to have, for it's own sake; and who knows, someday, it might just come in useful.
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without the express written permission of the owner. I am not a lawyer, I am not a peace officer. This page represents my personal opinions only and is meant for educational purposes only. No warranty is expressed or implied as to the accuracy or legality of the information contained herein. As always, think before you do anything.