Is there a legal duty to assist an officer?

I was half watching one of those cop show where a cop was struggling trying to arrest a person. There were people standing around and watching, but none of them offered any assistance. The announcer made a comment that sounded like “these bystanders ignored their duty to assist the cop in subduing the arrestee”. As I said, I wasn’t really concentrating on the show, but the comment caught my attention. Was that statement correct? Generally speaking, does a bystander overseeing an officer in need have a legal duty to assist the officer other than perhaps summoning other officers.

I can’t answer with any authority. But to my knowledge, only people trained and licensed to do so can participate in an arrest. I wouldn’t be suprised if “assisting” in an arrest when you don’t yourself have a badge could lead to assault charges!


Wikipedia, however, says otherwise:

It also has information for other countries.

Nothing here about whether you’re required to assist, but you are apparently at least permitted to assist.


This makes me want to write a scene in which a couple of “average joe/jane” types are trying to execute a citizen’s arrest, and during the whole process, while the hapless half-subdued arrestee looks on, keep looking up stuff on Wikipedia to make sure they get it right w.r.t. Miranda Rights etc. It’s comedy gold I tell ya!


You are not required to assist an officer. If you choose to assist, and are injured, the city and the department are not liable for your injuries and will not help you.

An officer can order your assistance, but because of liability issues, I dont think they ever would/do.

But is one legally obligated to comply?

If the officer requests the assistance, the persom is legally obligated to comply. Neglecting the officer or refusing to help is a crime.
But, like I said, there are liability issues and department SOPs that discourage an officer from making such a request.

ETA: As always, any laws I talk about are in reference to Florida statutes only. Laws in other states may (and probably do) vary.

It’s probably a bad idea to just jump in. The struggling officer may misinterpret your intentions, and when backup shows up to find two civilians and an officer in a melee there may be a certain amount of overreaction.

It doesn’t appear from what you said here that the police requested assistance. Thus, the commentator was wrong.

I dont know, but I suspect in England that it is not required by law to assist a police officer in the restraint of a criminal ,but that said if you didn’t and you weren’t old .a kid or pregnant your peers might be a bit offish with you.

I can’t find a cite, but a few years back there was someone prosecuted for failing to comply when an officer raised a Hue and Cry. IIRC he got off because he would have had to leave his young children unattended.

Bear_Nenno, why are police departments so leery about liability? Surely it’s to their longer-term benefit to assume the short-term liability? Knowing that the State will look after you - or your dependents - would be a powerful reassurance.

If you were walking by and an officer was in a struggle with a very large, drug-raged criminal, and the cop said “You there! Assist me!”. He has now given you a lawful command and it would be a misdemeanor for you to refuse.
So you run over to join the brawl and you end up with a broken arm, a broken nose. Your 800 dollar suit is ruined, and your $2000 dollar rolex is in pieces.
On top of all that, the criminal got away.

You subsequently sue the city and the department for all your hospital bills, pain and suffering, lost wages from your broken arm, etc etc.

It might be in their longer term benefit. But to what benefit is it to YOU? It’s their job to keep you safe and out of danger. Not to order you into fights that leave you injured.

Imagine if you were ordered to help and were KILLED? Talk about liability. . .

Whatever happenned to sovereign immunity?
I thought the police department could pretty much run around making bad decisions that would get civilians killed all day long and you couldn’t sue them… state’s laws, state’s courts, right?
Do municipalities not get that?

Departments get sued all the time for the poor decisions of their officers. Hell, we even have threads on the lawsuits all the time. The IHOP incident comes to mind.

Here’s a relevant staff report that I wrote a while back:

Yeah, I realized that.
Hopefully we’ll have a lawdoper speak to that sooner or later in this thread.

You can’t just throw away a line like “The IHOP incident” without a link now!

Thank all of you for responding to this question. I’m all for helping the authorities, but I’m not real keen on suffering financial damages for doing so.
Here is hoping it the situation never arises. Thanks again.

I’m sorry I don’t have an elecctronic cite for this, but I remember reading in the L.A. Times after the 1992 riots that the Supreme Court ruled that police forces to not have a specific obligation to protect citizens.

The decision could have been Deshaney v. Winnebago County, but I don’t know if that’s the case or if it was another.

What? No Seinfeld reference yet?