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Police NOT obligated to protect you
Police are obligated to keep order in society as a whole. As to individual people, they are not even obligated to come to your house to protect you! Read on!
You have no right to expect the police to protect you from crime. Incredible as it may seem, the courts have ruled that the police are not obligated to even respond to your calls for help, even in life threatening situations!. To be fair to our men in blue, I think most officers really do want to save lives and stop dangerous situations before people get hurt. But the key point to remember is that they are under no legal obligation to do so.”
Ruth Brunell called the police on 20 different occasions to plead for protection from her husband. He was arrested only one time. One evening Mr. Brunell telephoned his wife and told her he was coming over to kill her. When she called the police, they refused her request that they come to protect her. They told her to call back when he got there. Mr. Brunell stabbed his wife to death before she could call the police to tell them that he was there. The court held that the San Jose police were not liable for ignoring Mrs. Brunell’s pleas for help. Hartzler v. City of San Jose, 46 Cal. App. 3d 6 (1st Dist. 1975).
[Those of you in the Silicon Valley, please note what city this happened in!]
Consider the case of Linda Riss, in which a young woman telephoned the police and begged for help because her ex-boyfriend had repeatedly threatened “If I can’t have you no one else will have you, and when I get through with you, no-one else will want you.” The day after she had pleaded for police protection, the ex-boyfriend threw lye in her face, blinding her in one eye, severely damaging the other, and permanently scarring her features. “What makes the City’s position particularly difficult to understand,” wrote a dissenting opinion in her tort suit against the City, “is that, in conformity to the dictates of the law, Linda did not carry any weapon for self-defense. Thus, by a rather bitter irony she was required to rely for protection on the City of New York which now denies all responsibility to her.” Riss v. New York, 240 N.E.2d 860 (N.Y. 1968). [Note: Linda Riss obeyed the law, yet the law prevented her from arming herself in self-defense.]
Warren v. District of Columbia is one of the leading cases of this type. Two women were upstairs in a townhouse when they heard their roommate, a third woman, being attacked downstairs by intruders. They phoned the police several times and were assured that officers were on the way. After about 30 minutes, when their roommate’s screams had stopped, they assumed the police had finally arrived. When the two women went downstairs they saw that in fact the police never came, but the intruders were still there. As the Warren court graphically states in the opinion: “For the next fourteen hours the women were held captive, raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon each other, and made to submit to the sexual demands of their attackers.” The three women sued the District of Columbia for failing to protect them, but D.C.’s highest court exonerated the District and its police, saying that it is a “fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.” Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981).
The seminal case establishing the general rule that police have no duty under federal law to protect citizens is DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (109 S.Ct. 998, 1989). Frequently these cases are based on an alleged “special relationship” between the injured party and the police. In DeShaney the injured party was a boy who was beaten and permanently injured by his father. He claimed a special relationship existed because local officials knew he was being abused, indeed they had “specifically proclaimed by word and deed [their] intention to protect him against that danger,” but failed to remove him from his father’s custody. (“Domestic Violence — When Do Police Have a Constitutional Duty to Protect?” Special Agent Daniel L. Schofield, S.J.D., FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January, 1991.)
The Court in DeShaney held that no duty arose because of a “special relationship,” concluding that Constitutional duties of care and protection only exist as to certain individuals, such as incarcerated prisoners, involuntarily committed mental patients and others restrained against their will and therefore unable to protect themselves. “The affirmative duty to protect arises not from the State’s knowledge of the individual’s predicament or from its expressions of intent to help him, but from the limitation which it has imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf.” (DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 109 S.Ct. 998 (1989) at 1006.)
About a year later, the United States Court of Appeals interpreted DeShaney in the California case of Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Department. (901 F.2d 696 9th Cir. 1990) Ms. Balistreri, beaten and harassed by her estranged husband, alleged a “special relationship” existed between her and the Pacifica Police Department, to wit, they were duty-bound to protect her because there was a restraining order against her husband. The Court of Appeals, however, concluded that DeShaney limited the circumstances that would give rise to a “special relationship” to instances of custody. Because no such custody existed in Balistreri, the Pacifica Police had no duty to protect her, so when they failed to do so and she was injured they were not liable.
A citizen injured because the police failed to protect her can only sue the State or local government in federal court if one of their officials violated a federal statutory or Constitutional right, and can only win such a suit if a “special relationship” can be shown to have existed, which DeShaney and its progeny make it very difficult to do. Moreover, Zinermon v. Burch (110 S.Ct. 975, 984 1990) very likely precludes Section 1983 liability for police agencies in these types of cases if there is a potential remedy via a State tort action.
Many states, however, have specifically precluded such claims, barring lawsuits against State or local officials for failure to protect, by enacting statutes such as California’s Government Code, Sections 821, 845, and 846 which state, in part: “Neither a public entity or a public employee [may be sued] for failure to provide adequate police protection or service, failure to prevent the commission of crimes and failure to apprehend criminals.”
“In other words this means the only people the police are duty-bound to protect are criminals in custody, and other persons in custody for such things as mental disorders. YOU have no recourse if the police fail to respond or fail to protect you from injury!“
This is why you need to get a CCW so you can defend yourself
Without 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.
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