Code Adam and storekeeper's privilege

AIUI, Code Adam involves preventing anyone from leaving a store until a missing child is found. Does this fall under “storekeeper’s privilege” law (so as to avoid false imprisonment lawsuits?) If a customer refused to comply with Code Adam and left the store anyway, what might he/she be charged with?

Also, do Code Adam laws require store employees to allow someone to leave the store who can demonstrate practical need to do so (i.e., suffering a medical emergency at the moment?)

I’ve never heard of this, is it a common procedure? I’d most likely be helping look for the missing kid myself, but I can assure you that if I want to leave I’ll be doing just that.

It’s not like you’d be smuggling the kid out inside your coat. What’s the harm in letting people leave.

The description I’ve seen bars anyone new from entering the store. It does not bar people from leaving.

I’ve never been in a store when a Code Adam was in progress, but apparently it’s a lockdown protocol when a kid goes missing in a store or large facility. The store employees prevent anyone from leaving the premises while the kid is searched for.

Named after Adam Walsh, a kid who was kidnapped and murdered in the 1980s.

Edit: So nobody new can come in but people can leave? Isn’t the idea to prevent someone from taking an abductee out of the store?

Well, the doors are locked, so…

AFAIK, nobody’s legally obligated to remain inside the building. They’d have to find a key or an unlocked door, though.


I’ve never heard of this either. The Shopkeeper’s Privilege, at least at common law, only provides an immunity to a store clerk who detains someone after having probable cause to believe he shoplifted; it is not a general privilege to arrest for any crime (although citizen’s arrest may apply).

As other’s have said, if I try to leave the store, and have no child with me, what cause would anyone, shopkeeper or police officer, have to detain me? And to any employee telling me I need to find an unlocked door or a key would be subject to me filing a false imprisonment suit.

I understand what happens is that employees man the exits and check everyone leaving, rather than lock everyone in…?


Fire codes would prevent people from being locked inside.

I agree with this as well, but it presents constitutional concerns. If I am shopping with my daughter and we check out and leave, is the report of a missing child enough for a Wal-Mart employee making minimum wage, enough of a cause to physically detain me?

Did he get a description of the child? The age? The gender? What training does he have to make that determination?

That is worlds away from we saw this guy put a pack of smokes in his pocket and try to walk out of the store.

True but the stakes are much higher (missing kid vs. shoplifted cigs). Wonder if that changes the legal situation.

SFAIK the Code calls for (a) access to the building to be refused (i.e. you can’t come in) and (b) “reasonable efforts to be made” to delay the departure of any child answering the description of the missing child.

Presumably the object will be to delay departure until it can be verified that the child is not the missing child, and presumably in most cases this can be done fairly quickly, since the person who reported the child missing is still on the premises. Those who insist on leaving can be directed to just one exit door, where there is located someone who will recognise the missing child.

Another point to note is that the legal enforceability of a protocol like this is only a part - and, typically, a relatively small part - of its operation and efficacy. Most people will be motivated to respect the code and co-operate with it even if not legally obliged to do so, and those who distinguish themselves by insisting on leaving without co-operating can expect to be noted and remembered (and, these days, probably photographed, and perhaps followed and their car registration noted) which may deter them.

But the bottom line is, yeah, in the absence of leglsiation to authorise it, a shopkeeper can’t forcibly detain you against your will in this circumstance.

Well, I’m just trying to apply the law. Shopkeepers privilege only applies to theft. Not applicable.

In my state, a citizen may arrest someone only for a felony or misdemeanor breach of the peace committed in his presence. I think we assume for the purposes of the thread that the store employee did not witness a child abduction.

And if he locked the door that I came into the store from and directs me to a cattle call at the back of the store where police and the grieving mother are standing to investigate me, then I would look through the law books to see how that minimal detention might be unreasonable, and maybe I would fail.

But I think it is implicit in the concept of ordered liberty that I be allowed to go about my way unless there is some tangible reason why someone thinks I have violated a law. Locking a door that I came in is such an obstruction, especially if I am leaving with no child or a child that does not fit the description of the missing child or does fit the description as determined by a less than high school educated cashier at Wal-Mart.

It’s perfectly lawful to lock the door through which you entered, and indeed to lock all the doors except one, and require you to exit through that one (where you can be observed/inspected/spoken to regarding the child in your company). As long as you can leave the building you are not falsely imprisoned, even if the exit you are required to use is less convenient to you than the exit you would prefer to use.

You might have murdered the child and stuffed it into a toilet, or you might have tied up the child and left it in a closet where it would run out of air if not discovered in time. We wouldn’t want to let you get away in those circumstances, would we?

Having dealt with that question, the larger solution is just not practical. Certainly it would be against fire codes to lock people in. For myself, I would be willing to identify myself to a police officer before leaving in a situation like that, but not to any store employee, including store security.

The store already knows who you are, Roderick. And what you buy, and when. And where you bank. :wink:

I know about the Code Adam program. It is required at federal buildings that are open to the public. Some states have made it required at state buildings and several businesses have adopted it too, including Walmart.

I participated in a Code Adam drill last year at a local business.

There are a couple steps to it. One of them is indeed for staff to lock doors that lead to outside and monitor such doors.

But the steps IIRC did not include not letting someone leave, just not letting new people in. Employees were trained in techniques in delaying a suspicious persons departure, but there was not a procedure to actually physically detain such a person.

I was in a Wal-Mart when the electricity went out once. They had one door they opened manually. You had to leave your cart and walk to the front of the store. Employees had flashlights and there was some small emergency lighting on poles. They went aisle by aisle escorting people to the front. So, I’m thinking it was a planned policy. I’m pretty sure they must have a similar policy in place for a Code Adam.

That would be a question for the courts. Your bald assertion does not make it true. I would argue that the very idea of freedom and living in a free country does not allow a minimum wage idiot, or even a high paid professional person to detain me in my movements without a reasonable suspicion that I have committed some crime. Walking out the door with a child that your cameras show that I came in with disproves this suspicion and I am entitled to go about my way.

I might have used an app on my phone to blow up the White House. I might have done all sorts of things. Unless you can show with some evidence that I tied up a girl in the bathroom or the dressing area, with a cartoonish sense of oxygen running out, then I should be free to go. Freedom does not depend on the complete disproval of movie plots.