I’ll give you a condensed easy to understand version. I am NOT an attorney. Just a veteran cop. I’m not telling anyone to take the law into their own hands. I suggest being a good witness. The one real difference between when a cop can make an arrest and a citizen may make an arrest is this one huge point. A police officer only need to believe that a crime has occurred. For a citizen, a crime must have actually occurred.
Here’s an example: You are strolling down the street after parking your car. Some damn yellow tape was stretched across the street and you wanted to deposit a check in the night drop at your bank a half block away. Since you are texting on your phone you really aren’t aware of everything going on around you. But as you step onto the curb in front of your bank a masked man runs out the front door of your bank spilling 20 dollar bills from a bank bag. You figure, Crap! a bank robbery! Good thing I’m carrying my tool pouch and hammer. So as the guy runs past you, you crack him on the head with the hammer and yell “Citizen’s Arrest, I got you”. Just then you look around and hear someone yell, “Cut. Who is that clown?” Oops you’re in trouble.
That may be a little exaggerated but it delivers the point. Our cops are trained in criminal law and the basic elements of crime. A cop only needs reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has occurred and that the person has committed that crime in order to detain that person(s). Court conviction has a higher standard for conviction. I think you get the point though.
I made off-duty arrests over the span of my career and some were unpleasant to say the least.
One time I called for police assistance regarding a logging truck driver who was entering his big rig facing down the mountain with a load of redwood trees on the back. He was highly intoxicated. It was only 5:30 PM and warm summer night. We were about a dozen miles from the nearest city.
I tried talking to the drunk in mild tones and suggested that he come back inside the restaurant for a while. I offered to buy him some pie and coffee. He was quite the friendly sort. He took a swing at me and missed. I told him I was a cop and pulled out my wallet with my flat badge and ID to show him. He spit at me and knocked the wallet to the ground. So I knocked him down too.
As he was getting up, I could clearly tell this was not going to be an easy situation to diffuse. I yelled at the cashier to get me some help and call the cops again.
There were at least 15 other people in the restaurant watching this unfold on the sidewalk in front of the entrance.
I struggled to subdue and hold him in a restraint hold. Luckily a lady arrived in her car at that point, saw my badge on the ground and offered to help. I gave her the keys to my car and asked her to bring me a set of handcuffs that were in my glove compartment.
The cops arrived 25 minutes after I originally called. Both the drunk and I were tired, a little bloody and I had managed to pull out a large clump of his hair when I employed a “hair takedown” to get him on the ground where I could hold him down. Lucky for me, I was a cop with experience and training in making physical arrests and had a set of handcuffs.
No one seemed to know where this idiot got drunk or how he managed to get his big rig to the top of that mountain.
My suggestion is to avoid making a citizen arrest unless of aggravated circumstances. Sometimes the person that you are detaining will have criminal associates on-site. That may place you in a position where you could receive great bodily harm.
If you make a citizen’s arrest, you must call the police immediately. The police will probably have you sign a Citizen’s Arrest Form and you will be required to appear in court if the case is prosecuted.