The Supreme Court Ruled Police Officer Do Not Have a Duty to Protect You or Your Family
You have no right to expect the police to protect you from crime. The police don’t have to come when you call 911. Depending solely on police emergency response means relying on the telephone as the only defensive tool. Too often citizens in trouble dial 911 . . . and DIE!
Americans increasingly believe, however, that all they need for protection is a telephone. Dial 911 and the police will come to the rescue.
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. Police do very little to prevent violent crime. They investigate crimes after the fact.
To be fair to our men in blue, 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.
You have no recourse if the police fail to respond or protect you from injury or death
Warren v. District of Columbia – 1981 – 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).
WASHINGTON – June, 2005 – The Supreme Court ruled that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.
The police didn’t respond to a woman’s pleas for help after her estranged husband violated a protective order by kidnapping their three young daughters, whom he eventually killed.
For hours on the night of June 22, 1999, Jessica Gonzales tried to get the Castle Rock police to find and arrest her estranged husband, Simon Gonzales, who was under a court order to stay 100 yards away from the house. He had taken the children, ages 7, 9 and 10, as they played outside, and he later called his wife to tell her that he had the girls at an amusement park in Denver.
Ms. Gonzales conveyed the information to the police, but they failed to act before Mr. Gonzales arrived at the police station hours later firing a gun, with the bodies of the girls in the back of his truck. The police killed him at the scene.
Estate of Sinthasomphone vs City of Milwaukee (1992) Milwaukee police received a 911 call informing them that a naked and badly beaten young boy (who turned out to be a 14-year-old Laotian named Konerak Sinthasomphone) was at a specific address and needed help. The police responded to the call, as did the fire department and paramedics. When the police arrived, Jeffrey Dahmer, currently on probation for sexual abuse of a male child, was trying to reassert control over the boy while two private citizens were trying to prevent him from doing so. The police ordered the two citizens and the fire department to leave, took control of boy and delivered the drugged and beaten boy back to Dahmer’s apartment. Dahmer, it turned out, was a serial killer.
Sinthasomphone became one of his seventeen victims, with his body dismembered and stuffed into his refrigerator. Sinthasomphone’s family and estate sued, alleging Konerak’s constitutional rights were violated by Milwaukee police. The federal district court ruled that the case could proceed to trial, concluding that the alleged facts suggest that it was the government’s action in preventing rescue, not just inaction, that was the cause of his injuries and that Konerak’s brief period of police custody might have created the “special relationship.”
1982 -A husband and wife who were assaulted in a Laundromat while the assailant was under surveillance by officers, brought legal action against the city and the officers for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and for negligent investigation, failure to protect and failure to warn.
The Supreme Court held that: (1) the mere fact that the officers had previously recognized the assailant from a distance as a potential assailant because of his resemblance to a person suspected of perpetrating a prior assault did not establish a “special relationship” between officers and assailant under which a duty would be imposed on officers to control assailant’s conduct; (2) factors consisting of officer’s prior recognition of assailant as likely perpetrator of previous assault and officer’s surveillance of assailant in laundromat in which victim was present did not give rise to special relationship between officers and victim so as to impose duty on officers to protect victim from assailant; and (3) victim could not maintain cause of action for intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, in view of fact that it was not alleged that officers failed to act for the purpose of causing emotional injury, and that in the absence of such an intent to injure, officer’s inaction was not extreme or outrageous conduct.
Davidson v. City of Westminister (1982) 32 Cal.3d 197, 185 Cal.Rptr. 252
1975 – 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).
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.]
1991 – 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.
1965 – In an action against police officers and city for personal injuries sustained by Kathryne NeCasek when she was knocked down on a sidewalk by two suspects who had been arrested by the officers, the Court of Appeal held the amount of force or method used by a police officer in attempting to keep an arrested person or persons in custody is a discretionary act for purpose of application of doctrine of immunity of government officials from civil liability for their discretionary acts, and therefore Ms. Ne Casek who was injured by two escaped suspects who had been handcuffed together could not maintain an action against the arresting officers based on the officer’s alleged negligence in using insufficient force to keep the prisoners in custody.
Ne Casek v. City of Los Angeles (1965) 233 Cal.App.2d 131, 43 Cal.Rptr. 294
1969 – An action was brought by several landowners against the City of Los Angeles and the State pleading eleven separate causes of action for damages arising out of the ‘Watts’ Riots’ of 1965. The Court of Appeal held that none of the allegations presented was sufficient to show any duty owed by any of the officials named as defendants to act to prevent or avoid the harm suffered by the plaintiffs.
Susman v. City of Los Angeles, et al (1969) 269 Cal.App.2d 803, 75 Cal.Rptr. 240
04/08/2006 – Michigan – A 5-year-old boy called 911 to report that his mother had collapsed in their apartment, but an operator told him he should not be playing on the phone, and she died before help arrived.
The family of Sherrill Turner, 46, does not know whether a swifter response could have saved her life, but relatives want to know why the operator apparently treated the call as if it were a prank.
Police said the 911 response was under investigation.
Turner’s son, Robert, placed two calls to 911 after his mother collapsed Feb. 20 on the kitchen floor. During one of the calls, an operator said: “You shouldn’t be playing on the phone.”
In a tape of the call, parts of which were broadcast by Detroit-area television stations, the operator said: “Now put her on the phone before I send the police out there to knock on the door and you gonna to be in trouble.”
In an audio of the tape played on TV, some of what the boy says is unintelligible.
Delaina Patterson, the eldest of Turner’s 10 children, said police did not arrive until three hours later. She said only Robert and his mother were home at the time.
Detroit police spokesman James Tate said it was at least an hour before authorities arrived, but he said he did not have details. By that time, the boy’s mother had died, he said.
“The operator may have believed he was playing on the phone,” Tate said.
The 911 operator remains on the job amid the investigation, Tate said.
Bowers v. DeVito, 686 F.2d 616 (7th Cir. 1982) (no federal constitutional requirement that police provide protection)
Calogrides v. Mobile, 475 So. 2d 560 (Ala. 1985); Cal Govt. Code 845 (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Calogrides v. Mobile, 846 (no liability for failure to arrest or to retain arrested person in custody)
Davidson v. Westminster, 32 Cal.3d 197, 185, Cal. Rep. 252; 649 P.2d 894 (1982) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Stone v. State 106 Cal.App.3d 924, 165 Cal Rep. 339 (1980) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Morgan v. District of Columbia, 468 A.2d 1306 (D.C.App. 1983) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C.App 1981) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Sapp v. Tallahassee, 348 So.2d 363 (Fla. App. 1st Dist.), cert. denied 354 So.2d 985 (Fla. 1977); Ill. Rec. Stat. 4-102 (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Keane v. Chicago, 98 Ill. App.2d 460, 240 N.E.2d 321 (1st Dist. 1968) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Jamison v. Chicago, 48 Ill. App. 3d 567 (1st Dist. 1977) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Simpson’s Food Fair v. Evansville, 272 N.E.2d 871 (Ind. App.) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Silver v. Minneapolis, 170 N.W.2d 206 (Minn. 1969) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Wuetrich V. Delia, 155 N.J. Super. 324, 326, 382, A.2d 929, 930 cert. denied 77 N.J. 486, 391 A.2d 500 (1978) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Chapman v. Philadelphia, 290 Pa. Super. 281, 434 A.2d 753 (Penn. 1981) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
Morris v. Musser, 84 Pa. Cmwth. 170, 478 A.2d 937 (1984) (no liability for failure to provide police protection)
The Police Are Not Your Friends!