A citizen’s arrest occurs when a private citizen exercises the right to detain a suspect until law enforcement assumes custody. The concept of a citizen’s arrest was born out of English common law during the middle ages.
Merchants would often detain shoplifters caught in the act and take the perpetrator straight to the local constable’s office for trial. However, as guns became more common in the commission of crimes, law enforcement’s presence increased and the necessity for citizen’s arrests was diminished. New Jersey law enforcement professionals discourage untrained civilians from making citizen’s arrests because of the risk of bodily injury or death.
Make mental notes of the actions taking place if you witness the commission of a crime. You will need to inform law enforcement of the event as you remember it. Retrieve any evidence that may have been left behind by the suspect.
Call the police. Make sure you maintain a reasonable distance from the suspect while dialing 911. You do not want the suspect to know that you have witnessed the crime and are phoning the authorities. If the perpetrator suspects the police are being called, he may attempt to flee the scene. When the 911 dispatcher answers the phone, notify her of your location, the brief details of the crime and a description of the suspect.
Approach the suspect with caution. Notify him that you are making a citizen’s arrest and that the police have been called and will arrive shortly. If the suspect has a weapon or appears to be aggressive, do not approach him. Be cautious if you decide to use physical force to detain the suspect. If you cause bodily injury, you could be liable for the suspect’s injuries.
Keep an eye on the suspect while you wait for New Jersey police to arrive. Re-dial 911 if the location of the suspect changes before the police arrive at the location.
Identify the suspect when the police arrive. Give the officers the details of the crime you witnessed and hand over any evidence you collected. Be sure to give the officers your contact information so they can phone you if they need additional information.
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images