This is the fourth 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 examined important questions, such as how to handle a citizen’s arrest in a team environment. Now, we’ll look at more nuances to the citizen’s arrest process, including what happens after someone is actually detained.
Steps to Take after the Arrest Is Made
After a citizen’s arrest is made, the first question should be: Did you call the police yet? If not, that should be the very first thing you do after effecting the arrest. Better yet, ask someone nearby to call the police before or during the arrest itself.
The purpose of a citizen’s arrest is to detain someone until law enforcement arrives to address the situation. So you should never hold someone pursuant to a citizen’s arrest without notifying law enforcement. The call to police should come before, during or immediately after the arrest. Do not wait.
Strictly speaking, you do not need to take an arrested person anywhere. You can leave him just where you find him at the time of the arrest if that doesn’t interfere with anything else happening.
However, citizens’ arrests are often made in stores, hotels, restaurants, bars and other public venues where there are spectators. And usually both the business owner and the arrested person do not want to make a scene after an arrest. So if there is a discreet location to where you can safely move the arrested person — such as an office or waiting room — this move is often preferable for the sake of preserving privacy and the arrested person’s dignity.
However, when removing a person from an area where witnesses are present to where there are no witnesses, it is strongly recommended to make sure the holding area is adequately surveilled, such as with a working security camera system that is recording video footage. The reason is, with no witnesses or security system present, the detainee could accuse the person who made the citizen’s arrest of mistreating them outside the view of onlookers.
And if there isn’t any evidence to the contrary, this becomes an issue of their word against yours. So ensuring that there is a video (and preferably audio) record of the detainee’s entire time in custody is important to avoid any potential liability stemming from false allegations of abuse or mistreatment during detention.
Holding Time Depends on the Circumstances
This is another “it depends” question, but fortunately law enforcement will usually guide you on the appropriate holding time as soon as you notify them. In most places, police will generally show up fairly quickly to take over, and as soon as they do, you should turn over custody and the matter to them. And do not interfere with law enforcement exercising their governmental duties.
However, in some places there may be times when police are not able to attend to a detained individual for several hours. If this is the case, then you should hold the person for as long as law enforcement directs you to. Follow their instructions.
When a person is detained pursuant to a citizen’s arrest, law enforcement will attempt to run the individual’s name and information through a national database to look for outstanding warrants and other information. This research will help them decide how urgent the matter is, and they will direct you accordingly.
But what if the arrested person doesn’t give you their name or information? This happens sometimes, particularly if the person is angry that you arrested him. If he doesn’t give you a name or information, you may not have much information to convey to law enforcement other than a description and a summary of what happened and why you arrested him. Do the best you can, and again, follow instructions from law enforcement.
Do Not Search Someone’s Clothing or Belongings for ID
What if the arrested person has a wallet or purse? Should you search through it to look for an ID? The answer is absolutely not. This would be a search, and a private citizen is never authorized to conduct a search or seizure on another private citizen.
If the arrested person wants to freely share his information or show you his ID, great. But if not, you cannot look in his pockets or go through his belongings to get information. If it’s not in plain view (such as a name on a nametag or bracelet that is visible out in the open), you cannot search for it.
In the next part of this series, we’ll examine other related concerns such as whether and how an arresting person might conduct protective weapons pat downs for safety purposes.
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.