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

6 min readJun 17, 2021


citizen’s arrest part 6 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 sixth 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 citizen’s arrest concerns such as whether and how to conduct protective weapons pat-downs for safety purposes. In this part, we’ll address what happens in a citizen’s arrest after law enforcement arrives and how best to prepare your business for the possibility of having to make a citizen’s arrest someday.

Be Prepared When Police Officers Arrive

When law enforcement arrives, watch, listen and be prepared to assist if needed when the police get there. They will need information from you, including what happened and why you made the arrest. Be truthful and comprehensive, and try to help in any way you can.

But ultimately, when police take custody, the matter — at least in terms of criminal processing and prosecution — is out of your hands. Law enforcement will decide what next steps are appropriate.

In any case, you should document the incident carefully, including who was involved, what happened and how you addressed it. You should collect statements from everyone involved, signed and in writing if possible.

If the person who was arrested committed a crime on your property, you may also want to effect a legal trespass at this time. This is when you inform the individual, with legal documentation provided by law enforcement, that she is no longer welcome on your property ever again, notwithstanding the outcome of other legal proceedings that may stem from the arrest. Police can usually help you with this procedure if it’s something you want to do.

You Do Not Decide Whether Charges Are Pressed

Who gets to decide whether charges are filed is another point of common misunderstanding from TV shows. If you were the victim or if the criminal conduct occurred on your property, you can absolutely share your disposition with the police when they arrive, and they or the district attorney’s office (depending on the law in the specific jurisdiction) can certainly take your wishes into account when deciding what to do with the accused.

But ultimately, it isn’t your call. If the government decides to prosecute or if it decides there isn’t enough evidence to move forward, it doesn’t really matter if you disagree.

How Businesses Can Train and Prepare for a Citizen’s Arrest

Although we hope we’ll never need to arrest someone, we can still do things to prepare for the eventuality that at some point we may need to make a citizen’s arrest.

One of the most important preparatory steps is to establish clear policies and procedures around when, where and how to make such an arrest. For example, even though a citizen’s arrest may be legal when and where criminal conduct is observed, many companies opt not to pursue these courses of action over concerns that such confrontations can make matters a lot worse. And sometimes, these policies are wise.

As an example, many supermarkets and retail stores commonly train their staff that if they confront someone about possible illegal activity such as theft, they should never attempt to get physical. Even if the suspect resists or attempts to flee, the staff should refrain from ever putting a hand on that person. That is because sometimes individuals committing crimes are prone to violence and may carry weapons. A simple confrontation can easily turn deadly under such circumstances.

So it is often better to simply not go there. No stolen merchandise will ever be worth jeopardizing human life.

For the same reason, some stores actually take an even more passive position, one of not even confronting suspected criminals in the first place. They will discreetly call law enforcement when they observe criminal behavior, but they do not engage or confront the suspect unless there is an active and imminent threat to human life or well-being.

Considerations on Equipping Security Staff with Handcuffs or Weapons

Whether security staff should be equipped with handcuffs or weapons is a tough question to answer, as there is no one right way to handle such concerns. It ultimately depends on the activity that your employees will face in their day-to-day routines.

For example, hospitality security professionals often contrast the hotels in Orlando with the casino resorts in Las Vegas in order to highlight the way in which circumstances dictate what may be appropriate. Both Orlando and Las Vegas see tremendous amounts of tourism. Yet the kinds of visitors they attract and the activities they engage in are so vastly different that they demand very different approaches to security.

In Orlando, most security officers are unarmed and do not carry handcuffs. Even in the largest hotels and resorts, instances requiring physical confrontation with guests or a citizen’s arrest are very few and far between. Orlando is the destination for family vacations, and as such, most visitors behave responsibly and appropriately.

But Vegas is the opposite. Las Vegas is the adult vacation destination, featuring gambling and nightclubs, drinking, and partying. Consequently, shenanigans and misbehavior are an everyday event for security officers, so most are equipped with handcuffs as standard issue equipment.

Additionally, most large casino resorts also have a select team of specially trained security staff that carry semi-automatic weapons. There are also K-9 units that patrol properties with dogs trained to detect explosives and narcotics, and to attack if necessary. Sin City is a very different world.

That said, even in Vegas where some security units carry weapons, these units generally should not be first responders to a physical altercation or a citizen’s arrest if possible. Why? Because the mere presence of a firearm could escalate the situation. If an aggressor presents deadly force, an armed security officer may be too quick to retaliate with his weapon rather than try to retreat.

Similarly, if a physical skirmish results in an aggressor getting his hands on a security officer’s weapon, imagine the havoc that could ensue. For all these reasons, it is best — if the hotel or casino has armed security at all — that they keep a healthy distance from confrontations, unless and until they turn imminently deadly, and deadly reciprocal force is unambiguously necessary.

Security Personnel Who Carry Weapons Are Well-Trained in Their Use

One more point on the subject of firearms: Officers who do carry weapons for work purposes should have nothing short of intense training in their use, well beyond that which is typically mandated for basic civilian ownership and concealed carry permits in most states. For example, when Dr. Deel worked for casinos in Las Vegas, the armed unit training was conducted by retired Navy SEALs, and the regimens included different types of high-stakes, active drills. These exercises put officers-in-training in very tense situations where they needed to demonstrate their ability to act calmly and think clearly under pressure, repeatedly and reliably — all before they would ever be given access to a loaded weapon.

In the final part of this series, we’ll cover some ancillary points including what local governments can do to support citizen’s arrest efforts and what alternatives to citizen’s arrests are viable.

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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