Chief Ferguson Explains Citizens' Arrest Procedure
Over the past several months, residents have asked questions or posted comments on social media about why an officer did or did not arrest a subject for a perceived crime. Typically, these inquiries and comments are related to misdemeanor crimes and incidents involving homeless individuals yelling at traffic or disturbing the peace. The following information is provided to help address these queries.
California and most other states have enacted statutes prohibiting officers from making arrests for misdemeanors and infractions that were not committed in the officers’ presence. Except for a few specific crimes, in California, the only people who can make misdemeanor arrests are civilians who witness the crimes or who are victims.
In some cases, social media posts have included examples of a homeless individual chasing or following person(s) to their vehicle. Under this circumstance, the arriving officer cannot place the individual under arrest because they did not witness the incident. Thus, it would require the reporting citizen to agree to and complete a citizen’s arrest.
ARREST PROCEDURE: If a citizen has a legal right to arrest a person and elects to do so, there is a procedure that officers must follow. This procedure is divided into four parts:
- taking the arrestee into custody
- arrest formalities, which include collecting a signed citizen’s arrest form
- disposition of the arrestee
- searching the arrestee.
ARREST FORMALITIES: Although no “magic words” must be recited, officers will ensure that the following formalities are observed. YOU’RE UNDER ARREST: The suspect must be notified that they are under arrest. Although the citizen usually does this, they may also delegate this duty to officers so long as they understand that, under the law, they are the person making the arrest—that he/she is simply delegating to officers their authority to do so. IDENTIFY THE CRIME: If the suspect says they want to know the specific offense for which they are being arrested, the citizen or officer must tell them.
DISPOSITION OF THE ARRESTEE: Although officers must initially take custody of the suspect, they may ordinarily exercise discretion in determining what should be done with them. Specifically, they will usually have the following options.
- Transport to jail. Officers may use discretion and not transport them to jail if they determine “there is not a reasonable likelihood that the offense will continue or resume or that the release of the person arrested would imminently endanger the safety of persons or property.”
- Cite and Release.
For more information on citizen arrest procedures, contact the police department at 707-894-2150.