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Monday, April 28, 2008

Vigilante or Vigilant Citizen?

At what point does an American citizen no longer have the right to enforce the law? I recall being informed as a youth that if I witnessed a crime being committed, I had the right to intervene and make a citizen's arrest. I actually participated in one once as I saw a bicycle thief riding off on a friend's bike; we all jumped out of his mother's car, grabbed the kid, made sure it was the right bike (as opposed to one that just looked the same), and took it back. This happened because a day or so after the theft, someone witnessed a kid riding the bike around town. Did we enforce or break the law? My friend's mother called the police and held onto the thief until they came. I assume she was doing the right thing.

Later on in life, while training for a job as a security officer, I was advised that as long as I witnessed the crime in person and stated out loud the crime I was arresting for, I could make a citizen's arrest (at least as long as I was physically able to detain the suspect). In fact, the trainer stated that he'd arrested several people, putting a couple into the hospital who had resisted arrest, and he'd been fine legally. He said he'd had to go to court, but that he'd been acquitted because he was legally in the right.

Now, a security guard puts himself in the role of vigilante to a certain degree. He patrols areas where crimes are likely to happen. (If they weren't, it wouldn't be worth hiring a guard.) When a crime occurs, his job is to either prevent it or to respond in such a manner as to preserve life and property. We were informed that we had no special authority to do these things; we were acting under the same authority as any other private citizen.

Hence my question: If a person were to patrol crime-ridden areas, and attempt to arrest those committing crimes that he had personally witnessed (making sure to state so clearly while making the arrest), would it be legal? I can see no reason against it. Maybe that's what we need in our urban areas-- a dose of vigilante justice. If the locals took the law into their own hands, operating within the limits of their authority as private citizens, they could easily clean up the streets. When I lived in Ecuador, just such a scenario occurred. A neighborhood thug, known around town for dealing drugs and murder, finally pushed the community too far one night when he broke into a house and raped some one's daughter.

The neighborhood was outraged. They got together, entered the man's house, and tried to take him. He fought, and they fought back quite fiercely; he was beaten unconscious. They were about to set fire to his house, with him still inside, when cooler heads prevailed. He was arrested, and, as far as I know, never returned to that area again.

Why don't we do that here? We're too afraid that we, those who just want to live in safety and peace, will be punished more than those who threaten us and our families. Is that fear based in reality? I don't know. From my perspective, punishing those who defend their community from criminals is just plain wrong. A community has the right to defend itself. Isn't that what the Second Amendment is all about?

If you have some knowledge on this subject, please leave a comment. I'd really appreciate it.

1 comment:

  1. Working in a law enforcement enviornment, I see many scenerios. Those that you describe usually meet with a "Great job" IF they truly meet the criteria you state. The fear is that those "vigilantes" may get a bit carried away with the power of it all. It has happened in the past and will, I am sure, happen again. The other fear is that those citizens making the arrest will be hurt. An officer's job is to "serve and protect" and they, for the most part, take that very seriously. They do not want the public to take undue risks that they have not been trained to take and getting injured. I do believe that we each have the God given right to defend that which is ours but we need to make a rational choice as to the risk versus the loss. This is a great site!!

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