The Complicated Process of a Citizen’s Arrest (Part III)

4 min readJun 8, 2021
citizen’s arrest part 3 Deel Russo

By Dr. Gary L. Deel, Faculty Director, Wallace E. Boston School of Business, American Public University, and Dr. Chuck Russo, Program Director, Criminal Justice

This is the third article in a series on the particulars of citizen’s arrests, including when, why and how these arrests are appropriately applied. Start with the first article in this series. This article series is not intended as legal advice. Readers should consult a licensed attorney with any specific questions or concerns on the subject matter.

In the previous article, we looked at particulars surrounding a citizen’s arrest, such as what you should say and what to do if someone resists you. In this part, we’ll examine other important questions, such as how to handle a citizen’s arrest in a team environment.

Who Should Perform a Citizen’s Arrest in a Team Environment?

A common question asked is, “If someone needs to be arrested pursuant to a citizen’s arrest, how should a workplace team decide who should do the arresting?” And the answer will depend on a lot of factors, the first of which should be who is best qualified or best trained.

For example, if we think the person we’re about to arrest might get violent or resistant, who has the most training in self-defense and safe submission tactics? Whoever that is should be the person to make first contact and then others can assist if needed.

Other Considerations Include How a Citizen’s Arrest Looks and Public Perception

Optics and public perception are other factors to consider in a citizen’s arrest. Sometimes we have to make arrests in front of other customers and onlookers. When we do, we should remember that almost everyone today has a smartphone with a video camera built into it. That said, careful thought should be given to what is most appropriate and what makes the most sense in the given situation.

For example, can a man who is 6 feet tall and 200 pounds legally effect a citizen’s arrest on a female who is 5 feet tall and 110 pounds, and even use physical force if the circumstances require it? Yes, and if he is the only one available to do it, he may have to be the one to do it. But he should consider the appearance of the dramatic power imbalance and imagine how that will look to others, regardless of how appropriately he behaves in the process.

This is why, if he has a female on his team who can assist him, he might do well to defer to her to take the lead in the situation for several reasons. First, the person being arrested may feel less threatened or frightened by someone less physically intimidating, so the situation might play out in a more passive way than it otherwise would have. Second, if the arrest does turn physical and onlookers see it, it won’t appear as if a large man is dominating and forcing his will on a much smaller woman.

Such detailed decisions have been enough in the past to cost people their careers and expose employers to tremendous liability. So right, wrong or indifferent, it’s important to consider perception when deciding on an appropriate response to resistance.

Safety Is the Primary Concern

To be clear, if there is an imminent risk of harm to anyone, we should intervene to maintain a safe environment and mitigate harm, notwithstanding the peripheral circumstances. Public perception takes a backseat to actual safety. But the point is, where options are available, it’s worth carefully considering one’s choices before acting.

In the next part of this series, we’ll look at more nuances to the citizen’s arrest process, including what to do after the person is actually detained.

About the Authors

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Director with the Wallace E. Boston School of Business at American Public University. He holds a J.D. in Law and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for American Public University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

Dr. Chuck Russo is the Program Director of Criminal Justice at American Public University. He began his career in law enforcement in 1987 in Central Florida and was involved all areas of patrol, training, special operations and investigations before retiring from law enforcement in 2013. Dr. Russo continues to design and instruct courses, as well as act as a consultant for education, government and industry throughout the world. His recent research and presentations focus on emerging technology and law enforcement applications, post-traumatic stress, nongovernment intelligence actors, and online learning.




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