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Law Enforcement Powers of Private Citizens

NCJ Number
S Puro; R Goldman
Date Published
93 pages
This study describes the authority of private citizens to arrest, search, carry weapons, interrogate, and detain persons suspected of certain crimes, as well as the liability that arises when private individuals become involved in addressing crime in these ways.
The analysis focused on the ability of citizens, community groups, and private security officers to engage in both reactive and proactive actions concerning crime. Information was gathered by means of an analysis of State laws and regulations, as well as recent case law. The analysis revealed that the authority of citizens and community groups to combat crime is currently quite limited. Although substantial benefits can occur from cooperation between the police and the private sector, legal consequences both to the police and to private individuals and groups must be considered. Some courts have held that prearranged plans and joint activity between the public and private sector can lead to a finding that the entire activity is regulated by constitutional norms such as the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Therefore, legislatures may want to expand the authority of community groups and citizens as they have in the area of merchants' privilege and the authority of private security officers. Charts and notes