CLOSE
ThinkStock
ThinkStock

Can Anyone Just Make a Citizen’s Arrest?

ThinkStock
ThinkStock

It depends. 

First, a little history. The concept of citizen’s arrest is usually traced back to medieval Britain, where local sheriffs often relied on (and even encouraged) citizens to help maintain order and apprehend criminals. As the British explored and settled around the world, the citizen’s arrests came in handy in colonies that had little or no formal police forces and were far from the reach of the King’s justice system. 

Even after many of Britain’s colonies gained their independence and the wild frontiers became urban centers, DIY policing remained useful. Developing municipal police departments could only handle so many incidents without modern tools like patrol cars and hand-held radio technology. According to Violent Death in the City, a history of crime in 19th century Philadelphia, even with the establishment of the city’s first police detectives in the middle of the century (as late as 1898, there still were only 15 detectives in the police department, and none of them specialized in homicide or much else besides property crimes), private citizens continued to make arrests and even do detective work. Even Herman Webster Mudgett, a.k.a. H.H. Holmes, “perhaps the most celebrated mass murderer of the century,” was caught thanks largely to the work of Frank Geyer, a detective with the private security and detective agency Pinkerton Government Services.

By the end of the 1800s, American cities were becoming large and anonymous enough that everyday people were hesitant to intervene in other people's problems, and were growing dependent on police forces that were more institutionalized and expansive in their powers. Still, the concept of citizen’s arrest stuck around. 

Law of the Land

Today, in the United States, private citizens are still able to make arrests under certain conditions. Those conditions differ from state to state, but in many cases, you can make an arrest for 1) a misdemeanor offense committed or attempted in your presence (some jurisdictions specify that the offense has to constitute a “breach of the peace,” the definition for which varies) or 2) a felony offense that has been committed, whether in your presence or not. With a felony committed outside your presence, some jurisdictions specify that the crime must have actually happened, that you knew it happened, and that you have a reasonable suspicion about the identity of the perpetrator before taking action. If you don’t meet those criteria—if you thought a felony was committed and thought you knew who the perpetrator was, but no crime actually occurred, for example—but proceed with the arrest anyway, you open yourself up to a lawsuit in some places. 

Again, these rules differ from state to state and even between municipalities in the same state. Your mileage may vary, so check the local laws before you go and get your vigilante on.

Some other things to keep in mind:

- Some jurisdictions require certain procedural steps during a citizen’s arrest—for example, notifying the suspect that they are under arrest and identifying the crime for which they’re being arrested. In other places, you don’t have to notify a person that you’re arresting them if a “reasonable person in the suspect’s position” would know they are under arrest by your actions and the context. 

- When it comes to searching someone that you’ve arrested, many states allow you to seize any weapons in their possession and any evidence in plain view, but not conduct a search of their person. Some states grant exceptions for “merchant searches,” where a merchant who arrests a suspect for theft can make a limited search for stolen property in the person’s shopping bags, purse or other packages, but not their clothing. 

- Citizen’s arrests usually aren’t subject to the same requirements as an arrest made by a police officer. So, for example, you don’t need to read your arrestee their Miranda rights. 

- Using force during an arrest is tricky. Many states allow you to use the “amount of force that is reasonable and necessary” to make an arrest. The definition of “reasonable and necessary” will always depend on the circumstances of the arrest. Some states allow for the use of deadly force if the person making the arrest is faced with the threat of death or serious injury by immediate use of force (that is, someone is about to stab you, not just saying they’ll stab you). In some states, deadly force is also allowed in order to stop a fleeing suspect if reasonable attempts have already been made to restrain them. Crossing the line on the use of force obviously opens you up to serious legal and civil liability. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
How Are Balloons Chosen for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Getty Images
Getty Images

The balloons for this year's Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade range from the classics like Charlie Brown to more modern characters who have debuted in the past few years, including The Elf On The Shelf. New to the parade this year are Olaf from Disney's Frozen and Chase from Paw Patrol. does the retail giant choose which characters will appear in the lineup?

Balloon characters are chosen in different ways. For example, in 2011, Macy’s requested B. Boy after parade organizers saw the Tim Burton retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. (The company had been adding a series of art balloons to the parade lineup since 2005, which it called the Blue Sky Gallery.) When it comes to commercial balloons, though, it appears to be all about the Benjamins.

First-time balloons cost at least $190,000—this covers admission into the parade and the cost of balloon construction. After the initial year, companies can expect to pay Macy’s about $90,000 to get a character into the parade lineup. If you consider that the balloons are out for only an hour or so, that’s about $1500 a minute.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios