The Police Aren’t Legally Obligated To Protect You

Another chapter from my book, 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know, published in 2003, by Disinfo.

For more on me, please check out The Memory Hole.

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DragnetWithout even thinking about it, we take it as a given that the police must protect each of us. That’s their whole reason for existence, right?

While this might be true in a few jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada, it is actually the exception, not the rule. In general, court decisions and state laws have held that cops don’t have to do a damn thing to help you when you’re in danger.

In the only book devoted exclusively to the subject, Dial 911 and Die, attorney Richard W. Stevens writes:

It was the most shocking thing I learned in law school. I was studying Torts in my first year at the University of San Diego School of Law, when I came upon the case of Hartzler v. City of San Jose. In that case I discovered the secret truth: the government owes no duty to protect individual citizens from criminal attack. Not only did the California courts hold to that rule, the California legislature had enacted a statute to make sure the courts couldn’t change the rule.

But this doesn’t apply to just the wild, upside down world of California. Stevens cites laws and cases for every state — plus Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Canada — which reveal the same thing. If the police fail to protect you, even through sheer incompetence and negligence, don’t expect that you or your next of kin will be able to sue.

Even in the nation’s heartland, in bucolic Iowa, you can’t depend on 911. In 1987, two men broke into a family’s home, tied up the parents, slit the mother’s throat, raped the 16-year old daughter, and drove off with the 12-year old daughter (whom they later murdered). The emergency dispatcher couldn’t be bothered with immediately sending police to chase the kidnappers/murders/rapists while the abducted little girl was still alive. First he had to take calls about a parking violation downtown and a complaint about harassing phone calls.

When he got around to the kidnapping, he didn’t issue an all-points bulletin but instead told just one officer to come back to the police station, not even mentioning that it was an emergency. Even more blazing negligence ensued, but suffice it to say that when the remnants of the family sued the city and the police, their case was summarily dismissed before going to trial. The state appeals court upheld the decision, claiming that the authorities have no duty to protect individuals.

Similarly, people in various states have been unable to successfully sue over the following situations:

— When 911 systems have been shut down for maintenance

— When a known stalker kills someone

— When the police pull over but don’t arrest a drunk driver who runs over someone later that night

— When a cop known to be violently unstable shoots a driver he pulled over for an inadequate muffler

— When authorities know in advance of a plan to commit murder but do nothing to stop it

— When parole boards free violent psychotics, including child rapist-murderers

— When felons escape from prison and kill someone

— When houses burn down because the fire department didn’t respond promptly

— When children are beaten to death in foster homes

A minority of states do offer a tiny bit of hope. In eighteen states, citizens have successfully sued over failure to protect, but even here the grounds have been very narrow. Usually, the police and the victim must have had a prior “special relationship” (for example, the authorities must have promised protection to this specific individual in the past). And, not surprisingly, many of these states have issued contradictory court rulings, or a conflict exists between state law and the rulings of the courts.

Don’t look to Constitution for help. “In its landmark decision of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services,” Stevens writes, “the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.”

All in all, as Stevens says, you’d be much better off owning a gun and learning how to use it. Even in those cases where you could successfully sue, this victory comes only after years (sometimes more than a decade) of wrestling with the justice system and only after you’ve been gravely injured or your loved one has been snuffed.

Reference: Stevens, Richard W. Dial 911 and Die: The Shocking Truth About the Police Protection Myth. Mazel Freedom Press, 1999.

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Look for more 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know under the tag “50 Things” on disinfo.com.

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  • Joseph

    Either the government is obligated to protect you and gets a certain amount of control over your life, or you're on your own. There is no justification for middle ground; god knows I'm not going to just keep my kids safe and not expect them to obey rules.

    • God thinks…

      Finally, a reasonable individual.

      Just don't believe the crap this guy writes. It has been refuted as inaccurate often enough.

      • Tator160

        You don’t have to believe the crap that this guy writes as you put it. Pull your head out of the sand, get off your ass and ask a cop if he or she is obligated to put their life in danger in order to protect you as an individual. Find out the facts for your self. If he or she know what they are talking about the answer will be no.

        Officer Crump KCPD

  • 5by5

    Anybody know which states DO have laws requiring the police to “protect & serve”?

    • Nekko fox

      All of them do. The retard who posted this pedantic piece if drivel is talking out of his a!#hole. Where are the sources cited? One book? Written by a green kid out of Law School? A kid who is TRYING TO SELL HIS BOOK AND MAKE MONEY?!

      Yeah, this isn't fact. It's a bloody ad campaign, advertising free of charge to silly kids who read and want to believe that this steaming pile is fact.

      • GetTheFacts

        Sorry, your wrong perhaps you should actually do some research before you blurt out something in a post mindlessly? Read this http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/kasler-protection.html, it has your sources. Look up the court cases on wikipedia or google, here is a few to get you started:
        Warden vs. DC
        DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services
        Riss v. City of New York

        The police *may* protect you, but are under no obligation to do so.

  • Hal

    I've got an AR-15, and I hate it for you if you come in my house

    • God thinks

      Unlike the other bedlamites on this thread, I have nothing against what you say. Arming yourself to protect yourself, your family, and your home is perfectly reasonable.

      • Belcat

        Yup, and the other guys too, he sees your gun, fires at you first. 50% chance of game over.
        People don't usually fire at people who are unarmed if they don't have to. On top of that, the accidental gun deaths in the US are just so amazingly higher than any other country, that it practically proves regular citizens owning guns is a bad idea.

        • GetTheFacts

          This post is old, but what the heck does Belcat think he is talking about? Criminals, felons, and gang members fire at unarmed citizens all the time. Your typical criminal will run for dear life if he sees you have a gun, and even if he does shoot at you, at least you can shoot back. ‘Accidental Gun Deaths are so high in the U.S.’ … don’t open your mouth if you don’t know what the heck your talking about! ARGH! Of course they are higher, because the US is one of the few countries that lets the citizens own guns! And we have a lot of them! Over 250 million civilian owned guns in fact! And guess how many accidental gun deaths in the U.S. in 2007? Six Hundred and Thirteen (613), how many drowned? Over 3000. Accidentally poisoned? over 29000. Car accidents? 44000. Oh yeah… we nearly have as many guns as people, and accidental gun deaths are Soooooo high (sarcasm). Read the facts for yourself: http://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_19.pdf – page 35 (this comes from the CDC – pretty reliable I’d say).

  • UNSANE

    Well, since all I ever see and hear about the police in this country are problems (not because I look specifically for “Bad things”, seriously, when do you hear about “great courageous officers” besides in the movies lol) maybe we should just get rid of them, or at least re-do that whole system, because it IS fuuuucked. Cops tasering old ladies, kids, assaulting ambulance drivers, and they usually get PAID LEAVE. (paid vacation) Maybe time we make this an issue?

    • God Thinks

      People like you are obnoxious. I hear about courageous officers all the time. Perhaps you just live in a crappy state, huh? Police are just human beings. Bad police are bad human beings. People like you are bad human beings.

      See the correlation, or do I need to draw you a pretty diagram with motivational pictures?

      • intelligenceplease

        Whoah, whoah, hang on here GOD THINKS. How is UNSANE a bad human being for having concern against the police's abuse of power? All that UNSANE said was “since all I ever see and hear about the police in this country are problems,” they were not condemning anyone like you are. And I agree with UNSANE, we hardly ever hear about great police work, but mostly because the news focuses on more important matters, like bringing attention to power abuse. In my opinion, it is time to make this an issue. I am not saying that all police are awful, there are good police officers, there are “heroes”, but they are lost in the undertow of terrible things other officers do. Tasers are used when they could have been avoided, people do get denied trial, people are wrongfully charged, it happens all the time, all over the United States.

        And I personally can not see how you can call this person obnoxious when you leave comments such as:
        “Bawww I'm an Anarchist! Down with the Government! F*ck the police! Bawww!”
        “See the correlation, or do I need to draw you a pretty diagram with motivational pictures?”
        “Dude, seriously, shut and go sit down in the corner. Your teacher will be handing out cookies later, so just hold on until then, okay sport?”

        Show some decency and honor if your are going to make an argument, otherwise you are just as bad as those you are slandering.

        • Hadrian999

          what do you expect from someone who claims to speak for a supreme being,
          and then to hide behind guest status

          • intelligenceplease

            All too true.

  • Tio Holtzman

    NWA had it right: F*CK the Police.
    Anything you post can and will be used
    against you in a court of law…if you're allowed
    to have a trial.

    • http://elfpack.com/ God Thinks…

      Bawww I'm an Anarchist! Down with the Government! F*ck the police! Bawww! Anything I say can and will be used against me, even though I say I'm not going to get a trial even though I would because I'm probably a white upper-middle class American citizen who takes everything for granted! Bawww!

      Dude, seriously, shut and go sit down in the corner. Your teacher will be handing out cookies later, so just hold on until then, okay sport?

  • http://www.elftown.com/ God Thinks…

    If your only cited sources are from the book this guy wrote, I'm calling bullshit, especially since a 911 operator was sued for negligence in Denver not long ago.

    Quit plugging a novel written by a hack and start citing sources. It's sad when Wikipedia gives more sources that people like you. What does that tell you about bloggers these days?

    You fail, little troll. You fail.

  • Nicole

    I'm English, so I don't know much about US law. Here we have an idea called “duty of care” which everybody is required to excercise toware everyone else. Don't you have “reckless endangerment” in the US?

    • God thinks…

      Yes, we do. Do not believe this pack of lies. It's just an advertising thread promoting a bullsh#t book written by a kid just out of Law School who wants to make money and scare people. The job of the police force is to as follows; To uphold the law, to enforce the law as well as it's statutes, protect the common citizenry, and serve the peace. If they did not, they wouldn't be doing their job, and get fired. A few bad eggs get thrown into the mix because, hey, they're just humans. No one's perfect. But you know what? It's just the bad cops you hear about because it's better news. It sells. No one wants to hear about the cop who tackled the armed gunman so he doesn't shoot preschoolers. People want to hear how the cop was beating a minority with his nightstick.

      The above article is just like the website it's on. Disinformation.

      Meaning it's bullsh#t lies that slander people who make it their livelihood keeping the peace.

      • ebwolf

        Perhaps if the good, noble police officers(and I don't deny that there are many) didn't protect the monsters with badges through that stupid blue wall of silence, there would be less ammunition to report against them. It's exactly that “us against them' mentality that is the source of much, if not most, of the problem.
        Also, far too many agencies with far-reaching jurisdiction enables officers to disconnect from seeing those they investigate as fellow humans. We need to shift the focus of police work back to a community-oriented system. Those charged with the Protection and Service of a community should live in, and have a connection to, said community.
        More local sheriffs, less alphabet soup!

    • ebwolf

      Yes. But it's only applied to civilians, not to police.

  • dwinkle

    I never assumed otherwise.

  • Hadrian999

    the police have always been in the business of
    serving the ruling class and punishing anyone who doesn't accept domination,
    read up on the early labor movement and cointelpro, I know lots of cops,
    a vast majority are egocentric power trippers who get off on being able to bully people with no consequences.
    lets do a little research, lets all open our newspapers in our community and try to find just 1 example of a police officer stopping a violent crime, breaking up a killing…..anything…….anything at all

    • Tuna Ghost

      Aside from the fact that policemen simply doing their jobs is hardly newsworthy in this country, the fact that you claim to know a lot of cops means fuck-all, unfortunately, because none of us know who the hell you are. Generalities are not useful in discussions like this. To see examples of cops serving and doing what cops do you can simply watch an episode of “Cops”.

      • Hadrian999

        ive never seen a ep of cops where they actually help someone, usually they chase petty criminals
        or show up too late outbreaks of drunk rednecks

  • EagleJohn1951

    The USA constitute a small percentage of the Global population. The Headline “Hole in a corner nation has poor police laws” would enable the world majority to pass on by without being distracted into thinking it was a WORLD NEWS item.

  • God thinks

    Hey God Thinks, quit being such a preachy faggot. If I wanted your opinion I'd pull my dick out of your mouth and ask for it.

    • Belcat

      … which makes you gay as well. Amusing.

  • mcgibbo

    Yeah the Police should protect you but it's no wonder they have no legal obligation when people try to sue them, if they had to fork out everytime they fucked up they'd be broke within a week. What can you gain by suing the police it's not going bring back your mother is it. I understand there's corrupt coppers there're plenty of them in Britian, but at the end of the day I ain't gonna call Ghostbusters when someone's trying to break into my house. This week a guy in Nottingham was about to go to trial for killing a burglar when the prosecution dropped the case, so even if you kill someone you might as well call the cops, it's the courts and governments that have power the coppers just have to fill out reams of paperwork and try and catch as many suspects as they can.
    I blame all the ambulance chasers who want you to sue the council because you tripped over the kerb, look where you're walking retard.

  • voxmagi

    Just so people get a tiny taste of context…what the article refers to is the law regarding liability. If a police officer fails to save your life, or the police department fails to protect you in advance from a crime, then yes…they are free of liability. They are still expected to execute the duties of their job, but they cannot be held to account for every crime that happens despite their presence. The laws in question establish a precedent that prevents frivolous lawsuits against the police and other law enforcement agencies. Negligence cases still get their day in court.

    Taking that information out of context makes for sensational statements, but it doesn't do much to address the reality of poor quality law enforcement.

  • Carissa

    not to mention all the money you have to spend to go to court

  • Etech_trade

    Sydney – Australia. My home got robbed via break & enter. I called the police when I got home at 18:30pm after our house was ransacked. Then I waited & my mum got home within an hour. Then some family came over to check if everything is all right. Almost 4hrs later at 22:15+ two lesbian cops turn up, walked around & was out within less than 5mins!!! The only questioned they bothered to ask was why our ceiling was damaged (alarm cables were ripped out); I didn’t think of it at the time to tell them. All they said was that they’d send a forensics person around. Which a contractor I must add came around to do some hopeless finger printing.

  • Etech_trade

    Sydney – Australia. My home got robbed via break & enter. I called the police when I got home at 18:30pm after our house was ransacked. Then I waited & my mum got home within an hour. Then some family came over to check if everything is all right. Almost 4hrs later at 22:15+ two lesbian cops turn up, walked around & was out within less than 5mins!!! The only questioned they bothered to ask was why our ceiling was damaged (alarm cables were ripped out); I didn't think of it at the time to tell them. All they said was that they'd send a forensics person around. Which a contractor I must add came around to do some hopeless finger printing.

  • Tator160

    You don’t have to believe the crap that this guy writes as you put it. Pull your head out of the sand, get off your ass and ask a cop if he or she is obligated to put their life in danger in order to protect you as an individual. Find out the facts for your self. If he or she know what they are talking about the answer will be no.

    Officer Crump KCPD

  • GetTheFacts

    This post is old, but what the heck does Belcat think he is talking about? Criminals, felons, and gang members fire at unarmed citizens all the time. Your typical criminal will run for dear life if he sees you have a gun, and even if he does shoot at you, at least you can shoot back. ‘Accidental Gun Deaths are so high in the U.S.’ … don’t open your mouth if you don’t know what the heck your talking about! ARGH! Of course they are higher, because the US is one of the few countries that lets the citizens own guns! And we have a lot of them! Over 250 million civilian owned guns in fact! And guess how many accidental gun deaths in the U.S. in 2007? Six Hundred and Thirteen (613), how many drowned? Over 3000. Accidentally poisoned? over 29000. Car accidents? 44000. Oh yeah… we nearly have as many guns as people, and accidental gun deaths are Soooooo high (sarcasm). Read the facts for yourself: http://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/data/nvsr/nvsr58/nvsr58_19.pdf – page 35 (this comes from the CDC – pretty reliable I’d say).

  • GetTheFacts

    Sorry, your wrong perhaps you should actually do some research before you blurt out something in a post mindlessly? Read this http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/kasler-protection.html, it has your sources. Look up the court cases on wikipedia or google, here is a few to get you started:
    Warden vs. DC
    DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services
    Riss v. City of New York

    The police *may* protect you, but are under no obligation to do so.

  • Anonymous

    Why would any population choose to pay the salaries for police and homeland security forces if their job did not include the duty to protect its citizens? It is totally illogical to set up society so that its police become an oppressive force for government or business without being mandated to protect the taxpayers paying its bills.
    After all, neither government nor business pays taxes sufficient to qualify as commanding those services. Government is little more than a conduit, and business has made clear time and again they do not want to pay for the privilege of being citizens, although they expect services as if they were.

    America needs a gut check on how America is working, what it pays, and what it’s getting by those elected to govern as their representatives. Police who consider theft by a business as a civil matter, not a criminal one, are misinformed by someone. Theft by anyone doesn’t depend upon status or class…..as it is encouraged to be viewed in that light.

    Has America gone mad?

  • pbr90

    Why would any population choose to pay the salaries for police and homeland security forces if their job did not include the duty to protect its citizens? It is totally illogical to set up society so that its police become an oppressive force for government or business without being mandated to protect the taxpayers paying its bills.
    After all, neither government nor business pays taxes sufficient to qualify as commanding those services. Government is little more than a conduit, and business has made clear time and again they do not want to pay for the privilege of being citizens, although they expect services as if they were.

    America needs a gut check on how America is working, what it pays, and what it’s getting by those elected to govern as their representatives. Police who consider theft by a business as a civil matter, not a criminal one, are misinformed by someone. Theft by anyone doesn’t depend upon status or class…..as it is encouraged to be viewed in that light.

    Has America gone mad?

  • http://www.myelitepros.com/ washington dc burglar alarms

    HI, 

    Its brilliant article guys, 

    I liked it so much. 

    Thanks for it.

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