Police have a duty to protect individuals. (Nope, not another gun control thread.)

I say yes, they do. This “Code of Ethics” say’s so;
That’s what we pay them for. I say that if they can’t handle the job, then we need to get someone who can. I’ll be damned if I’m going to turn my home into a friggin’ fortress, and/or walk around armed to the teeth because they won’t do their duty. I’ll do what I can to help, but it’s their job.
The police have the same duty as the military, only on a different level.
This is not just my opinion, this is the police officer’s promise.

You’re right, police absolutely should be required to protect individuals. 100 percent, without a doubt, should.

But South v. Maryland, 59 U.S. (How.) 396, 15 L.Ed., 433 (1856), and Bowers v. DeVito, U.S. Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, 686F.2d 616 (1982) say they aren’t.

Sad, so very sad.

Well, you have to think about circumstances. If a cop sees a woman getting raped fifty feet away, he has the duty to step in and stop the crime from happening. But if he’s driving around ten blocks away from a crime, it’s not his fault if someone gets hurt.

If there’s an argument in someone’s home, and the police happen to be too busy to intervene (say, they’re chasing an armed robber or something), and someone gets killed as a result of that argument, is it the police’s fault? I say thee, nay!

“Code of Ethics” is a nice, idealistic thought… what about a “Code of Reality”? The reality of the situation is that the police simply can NOT be everywhere at once - not with the current numbers of cops running around, anyway - and can’t be expected to protect every single individual.

I agree with you about the code of reality; however, the argument made in the court cases cited above don’t really address that. Reality wasn’t the deciding factor, as the police could have perfectly well acted in those cases. The court decided that, regardless of any “Code of Ethics”, there is no duty under law (that a citizen can bring suit under) that requires a police officer to protect an individual citizen. Thus, a police action who stands by while a citizen is assaulted, raped, or murdered has not commited a tort (something he can be sued for).

Now, individual police departments may apply different standards, and may discipline officiers according to those standards. In addition, different circuits may apply different law if a case is decided differently (according to my memory, which may be wrong, the SC has not decided this one; it denied cert). But as of now, this is the law as far as I know it. I am not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV, and YMMV.

The code of reality and the law as cited above both argue that your defense is your responsiblity. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to “go around armed to the teeth”; it does mean you should responsibly consider your defense in the same way you consider planning for fire, flood, or other catestrophe, according to the likelihood of getting attacked and what your best response is according to your best judgement. The police will take the report and do their best to catch the guy afterward; they can’t be everywhere to prevent it while it is happening, and they can’t predict in advance everyone who will turn into a criminal. Deal with reality.

Why on earth would anyone assume that the police do not have a duty to protect the public simply because they are not held liable in tort when a victim gets hurt? Suddenly tort law is our only guide to what’s a duty and what isn’t?

And although I don’t have time to do a search myself this morning, I am certain that police have sometimes been held liable in damages for failing to protect a member of the public.

*Originally posted by minty green *
**Why on earth would anyone assume that the police do not have a duty to protect the public simply because they are not held liable in tort when a victim gets hurt? Suddenly tort law is our only guide to what’s a duty and what isn’t?[\B][\QUOTE]

Well, what **is[\B] a duty in your mind? In general, and speaking only for myself, I think of a duty as something that you can hold someone to. In the military, it is codified in the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. If a court will not enforce the duty, I guess I question whether it is a duty or not. (I am assuming you meant “in court” above; I am not sure what “in tort” means. In tort law?)

I would be grateful for citations, which I have never been able to find. I have heard of officers being disciplined by internal proceedings within their own departments; however, that is quite another thing. Frankly, I would purely love to have a good cite to counter this proposition; however, it really would have to be something better than “good old minty green on the SDMB.” No offense or anything, but the people I deal with are real hard asses that way.


tort-a wrongful act for which a civil action will lie except one involving a breach of contract.

If I have time today, I’ll try to find some cites for you about when police have been held liable for failing to protect the public.

You’re in luck, dlb. Turns out it took me about thirty seconds to find what looks like the applicable Texas law. Down here, the state has waived sovereign immunity very narrowly, and has not waived immunity at all for claims arising “from the failure to provide or the method of providing police or fire protection.” Tex. Civ Prac. & Rem. Code section 101.055(3). Nevertheless:

City of Dallas v. Cox, 793 S.W.2d 701, 727 (Tex. App.–Dallas 1990, no writ) (citations omitted).

So in at least some limited circumstances, it appears that police in Texas have a duty under tort law to protect individuals. For the record, however, I have not checked much to see whether the law has changed any since the Cox case, although a cursory glance at the Digest indicates
it has not.

Omitting the cite itself (which seems useful):

Cool! Different circuit from the Maryland case, so if this gets appealed to Federal court, and then up to the circuit level, we might see conflicting cases going up to the Supremes.

Unfortunately, this seems (from what little I can see) to be limited to state law, which makes an appeal to Federal court unlikely. I would truly like to see a general ruling that holds police departments liable to offer assistance, limited (as all people are) to their abilities.

Thanks very much for the citation; I don’t have access to Texas law, being limited to Virginia and Federal law stuff (and even then, I am dependent on the kindness of friends…)

Thanks also for the definition of “tort”; I am aware of it, and it was what puzzled me, since “not held liable in a wrongful act for which a civil action will lie” made no sense to me. That is why I assumed you meant “in court” or “in tort law”.

I really, really wish this would get appealed and upheld…

Well, the case is 11 years old and was never appealed to the Texas Supreme Court (that’s the “no writ” notation in the cite), so it definitely ain’t getting appealed now. But even if it were just issued yesterday, it still wouldn’t have a prayer of going to the federal courts. Tort law is nearly always left to the individual states, rather than the federal government. Tort laws can and do vary greatly among the different states. My Texas cite would have no bearing on Virginia law, unless ya’ll had a similar statute and found our court’s reasoning to be persuausive.

I suppose Congress might be able to pass a law making police protection generally a federal civil rights matter, which would largely nationalize the law on this issue. But there’s never been any talk of enacting such a law, and its constitutionality would be highly suspect in any event. I am also unaware of whether federal law permits federal police agencies (FBI, Secret Service, ATF, etc.) to be held liable in tort for failing to protect an individual from harm at the hands of a criminal.

BTW, it’s common lawyer-speak to say that someone is being sued or found liable “in tort.” It just means “under tort law.” Sorry for the confusion.

Got it. Thanks. New phrase added to mental dictionary. (Although I guess I did get it from context, but now I know it is fairly standard…)

You folks are confusing MORAL DUTY with LEGAL OBLIGATION. So you think they have a moral duty? Who cares! Certainly not the courts.

The recent Seattle Mardi Gras rioting is one example: the police saw assaults and vandalism occuring, and they just formed lines and held them – they made no attempt to rush in and save anyone or anything. They have no legal obligation to do so at the risk of their own individual well-being.

Look at Columbine as another example. Did they run in and shoot the little f*ckers? No, they positioned police and SWAT team members outside the school and waited, because it would risk their hides to go into the uncontrolled situation inside the building.

So, in that Texas case, what actually happened? Was an officer found liable for not protecting someone? Or was it merely a technical clarification by the court? The only web page I can find which mentions it is about a court case in NH which apparently references Cox in regard to denying liability money for some civil suit:


Hardly an auspicious case with which to claim that police are obligated to protect, if I’m reading it correctly.

In any event, the whole issue is moot, since police usually show up after a crime has been committed, not during its commission. They get to draw the chalk outline.

Sleep well. :stuck_out_tongue:

71-Hour Achmed mentions this;

Well, 71, since you brought it up.
It seems that the officers, at least the ones mentioned in this article, felt it their duty to do something.

I would imagine that, under the law, the life of a peace officer is at least as valuable as the life of a civilian and thus the peace officer is not lawfully obligated to risk his own life to save someone else. But that is just law. Morality is completely different. It is an opinion and best left unlegislated. Many peace officers will jump into dangerous situations to help others, but this is their own moral decision. They may face retribution (at least verbally) from the superiors for putting themselves in danger even if they succeed at saving the individual. The behavior most peace officers are trained to display minimizes personal danger while maximizing the safety of others. If the peace officers jump into a riot situation without some level of self-control we may just end up with a dozen dead or beaten officers in addition to the civilian casualties.

Yes, Procacious, I agree that a cop’s life is valuable. Of course. But not all situations put her/his life in jeopardy. Nor does the “code” compell one to do so.
It’s just that some of the replies here (and on the other “duty” thread) suggest that a cop is willfully sitting at the local donut shop while knowing that a violent crime is being committed.
In that scenario, I’d say that the cop is remiss in his/her duty and should be called to task.

Certainly he should be “called to task”. That’s what reprimands are for. You know, punish him with desk duty for a while.

As for criminal or civil violations, I think their job is tough enough without having to worry about getting sued because they didn’t pull a “Bruce Willis”-style rescue.

An after-death apology and a check for $200 are not equivalent to following any “duty to protect individuals”.

(Hey, $200 will buy lattes for 67 of the people who were injured. Way cool. Seattle ROCKS!)

So they were “just following orders” to hold back and not break up the fights and arrest the assailants? Too bad for the people who got beaten up and the guy who got killed. It belabors the point – police have no legal obligation to protect individuals.

Some may feel a moral duty to do so, and may feel guilty after the fact if they fail to do so – but that and $200 will buy you 67 lattes. . . .

Make mine a large cappuccino.
My point wasn’t about espresso drinks, but rather that the cops themselves felt that it was their duty to do something about the riot. The personal risk, early on, would’ve been small. Whether or not they should have mutinied, well, I guess that’s another matter.

Having responded to the other “Police have/have no duty” thread, I’ll jump in here as well.

I feel that any protective agency/force has an obligation to protect individuals, but only inasmuch as it is realistically within their power to do so.

as 71-Hour Achmed said, “…they get to draw the chalk outline.”

Police officers already run much higher job-related risks than the average citizen, but this doesn’t mitigate the fact that they are trained, armed and sworn to protect. I and many others here on the SDMB have put on uniforms in our nation’s armed services, knowing full well that it entails the risk of going into harm’s way. We can’t (well, we can, but with some pretty nasty consequences) just abdicate our sworn oaths the first time things get a little hot.

Pedants will play semantics to debate “society” against “individual”, but here’s a news flash: society is composed of individuals. So if a police officer is available or in a position to render aid to a citizen in distress, even though it may entail personal harm to the officer, then I feel that yes, they are obligated to do so.

It should be noted that, more often than not, they probably do. These few court cases cited here are rare; they are exceptions rather than rules. Buy a “Back The Blue” bumper sticker and put it on your car. And when a cop hauls you over for speeding, don’t be a jerk about it.

But dialing 911 during a violent attack and expecting a police officer to immediately appear at your door to save you is unrealistic. If you live in a high crime area, then the obligation to see to your own safety generally is upon you. Hence the other thread going on right now.

Ah, but my point is that they didn’t “mutiny”. They didn’t protect the individuals. And whether or not any of us (or them) feel/felt that that is/was their “duty” just doesn’t matter – the courts have consistently ruled that they don’t have a duty toward individuals, only toward society as a whole, and they base their planning around that.

I remember reading articles a few years back about some woman who had two police with her as she went to get some stuff out of her residence, because her ex-husband was abusive and had threatened her and she had a “restraining order” against him. The cops stood outside while she went in, and her ex-husband shot and killed her.

Your OP said you don’t want to live in a fortress or arm yourself – that it is the cops’ job to protect you. Well, that’s the level of protection you can count on. Anything more is strictly luck and a bonus.