Citizen's Arrest: Questions and Answers

ScottHallock By ScottHallock, 16th Aug 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Business>Law

The concept of a citizen's arrest is not to thwart Law enforcement and take the law into your own hands but used more as an emergency or temporary solution to stop a crime.

Citizen's Arrest: Questions and Answers

During my many years as a Police Officer, community members have always asked the question; “how can I make a citizen’s arrest”?

I have listed some of the most common questions asked and my responses. The helpful tips, information and safety precautions will help you understand how to make a citizen’s arrest:

Q: what exactly is a citizen's arrest?

A: a citizen's arrest, also referred to as, private person's arrest, is an arrest made by a civilian who apprehends or detains a person who is about to commit or has committed a suspected crime.

Q: who can make a citizen’s arrest?

A: any private person with or without any formal training, authority or certification can make a citizen’s arrest.

Q: when can I make a citizen's arrest?

A: in general, all States permit citizen's arrest when civilian witnesses a crime. State laws are not uniform when it comes to citizen's arrests, and you are encouraged to learn your State law. It would be safe to say that a private person can make a citizen's arrest at the time when he/she witnesses a crime or witnesses a crime about to happen.

Q: how do I make a citizen's arrest?

A: A citizen's arrest can be made a few ways. For example, security guards or store employees are private persons, and they have the right, as does any other private citizen, to apprehend, detain and arrest a shoplifter, thief or criminal committing any crime in their presence or are in the act of a crime about to happen.

The most common way citizen arrests are made is to call the Police and lead the Police to the suspect who has committed the crime. For example, if you witness any crime or someone is disturbing your peace or trespassing on your property you call the Police and tell them where the suspect is, and that you want to make a citizen's arrest. If the crime is a Misdemeanor then in some States you will most likely have to sign a citizen's arrest form as the person making the arrest since the Misdemeanor was not committed in the presence of the Police. The Police will take the person into custody and when there are any Court proceedings, you will have to testify as the one making the arrest.

If you witness a Felony crime and call, the Police in some States do not need you to sign a citizen's arrest form, and you become only a witness.

You can also file a Police report against someone who has committed a crime against you. A Police Detective will investigate the alleged crime, file the charges with the City Attorney and have that person brought to justice.

Q: can I use force when making a citizen's arrest?

A: any person can use any force necessary and reasonable to make a citizen's arrest. It is safe to say that if you decide to try to apprehend someone for committing a crime and physical force is used against you, then you have the right to defend yourself and use a reasonable amount of force necessary to affect the arrest.

Q: what do I do next after I make a citizen's arrest?

A: once you have made a citizen's arrest, it is your responsibility to deliver the suspect to the proper authorities in a timely manner and without any unnecessary delays.

Q: what are the legal responsibilities, civil liabilities and dangers of making a citizen's arrest?

A: making a citizen's arrest without cause, spitefully or maliciously can lead to civil suits or criminal violations.

You are not held responsible for making a false arrest if you reasonably believe a crime was having occurred or is about to occur. For example; you see someone climbing through a broken window of a house, and you arrest that person only to find out it is the owner of the house who locked himself out.

If too much force was used, intentionally used or was used without cause to subdue the suspect or the suspect was held in unsafe conditions or was delayed being turned over to the authorities you could be held liable and criminally charged.

Suspects have rights and a private person cannot violate those rights and must uphold the same rights, and civil liberties as a Police Officer would.

The dangers of making a citizen's arrest can be costly. Your safety is number one, and you never know whom you are up against when making a private person's arrests. That person could have a weapon, a catchy disease or be violent. I think of the man who tried to stop gang members from spraying graffiti on a wall, and they shot him to death. Store clerks who chase shoplifters out of the store and are beaten, stabbed or killed over a pack of cigarettes. Neighbors who constantly annoy each other to the point where one finally crosses the line and ends up in a law suit or in jail for committing a crime.


It is no secret that Law Enforcement and the community work together to combat crime. There are proper ways to make a citizen's arrest and understanding your State laws is necessary so you do not make a mistake.

In my opinion, and the best advice I can give when it comes to making a citizen's arrest is just being a good witness. Call the Police or fill out a report but do not try to take someone into custody on your own. It is much safer and easier if you believe crimes have been committed or are about to be committed to calling the Police and report it. The Police will respond and stop that person, investigate and make the proper judgments according to the law.


Citizens Arrest, Crime, Law, Law Enforcement, Private Persons Arrest

Meet the author

author avatar ScottHallock
I have been a Police Officer for over 28 years. I love writing articles on, "How Not to Become a Victim", Human Nature and Health / Fitness.

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