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


I thought those stickers were supposed to PREVENT you from getting pulled over:)

Do you have any cites for that, Achmed? I don’t know a whole lot about this area of the law, but I would be very surprised if courts “consistently” ruled that the police only have a duty to society as a whole, and not to the individual members of that society.

Actually, it seems a bit silly to me to think that the whole issue of police liability should revolve around the existence of a duty. “Duty” is only one part of the requirements for a tort–you also have to breach that duty to be liable. Their duty is not to be a 24-hour, armed bodyguard service, so any claim based on such reasoning is bound to fail. But when police officers do have the opportunity to prevent a crime and unreasonably fail to do so, I’m betting that many jurisdictions

Why the NRA types want to use tort law to define a police officer’s duty is beyond me. It’s a dumb argument. Here’s an analogy to show you why: Members of the armed forces are sworn to defend the United States from its enemies. But let’s say Castro gets uppity and invades Florida. Successfully. Mickey Mouse now sports a Che Guevara t-shirt, and South Beach is a re-education camp. But you can’t sue the military and collect damages for losing the war, even if they threw down their weapons and handed over the nukes at the first sight of the Cuban invasion force paddling ashore on their fruit-crate-and-styrofoam rafts. So are you claiming that because they can’t be sued, the military has no duty to defend the country? Is it “strictly luck and a bonus” when the Marines reduce Havana to a smoldering pile of ruins?

Well, gosh, demise provided three near the top of this thread. Here’s a link to a cite for one of them, found in about ten seconds on Google by typing in “Bowers DeVito Appeals”, clicking the search button, and clicking the first link that showed up. It’s not hard, really.

Huh? mangeorge, who started this thread, very clearly ISN’T an “NRA type”, seeing as how he/she/whatever specifically says that he/she/whatever doesn’t want to have to own a gun and that it’s the cops’ responsibility to defend him/her/whatever. Sounds like it was the non-“NRA types” who were trying to define the cops’ duties. . . .

My, what an adorable strawman you’ve built. But I dislike playing such silly games.

Seeing as how you admit you “don’t know a whole lot about this area of the law”, why don’t you go out and learn instead of creating silly analogies that hold (out) about as much water as a Cuban boat?


Didn’t make it the first time for some reason. Hopefully this time. BTW, how come I can’t edit my own posts??

In case you missed it, this thread started as an offshoot of another, substantially pro-gun poster’s thread arguing that we need lots of guns because the police have no duty to protect the public. http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=66727 When asked to explain why he felt the cops had no such duty, he explained that it was because they could not be sued for failing to protect the public. It’s a glurge argument I’ve seen several times in the last year or two that is factually incorrect (as far as I can tell) and logically crapulent. I mean, what twisted reasoning leads from the premise that you can’t sue the police in tort to the conclusion that the public must have unfettered access to guns?

You want to explain how my military/police analogy is a strawman? The proposition at issue is that if you can’t sue 'em for civil damages, they don’t have a duty. Is there some flaw so that my analogy fails to illuminate the silliness of the proposition?

Perhaps you ought to read your cites before you start making blanket statements about the law based on a single case that you clearly have not read or do not understand. The single case you provide, Bowers v. DeVito, is not even about the duty that police officers owe to members of the public. It is about what duty the Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, its employees, and its contractors owed to a member of the public under section 1983 of the federal Civil Rights Act. Not surprisingly, it decides that

This issue utterly fails to address, much less answer, the question of whether police officers may have a duty to protect the public under state tort law.

But wait, there’s more! It seems the court does address the possibility that police might be civilly liable for failing to protect somebody:

It’s always a good idea to read your own cites, Achmed.

As for Demise’s other cite (there are only two, not the three that you state), I can express no opinion because it apparently does not exist. Try for yourself to find 59 U.S. 396 over at Findlaw. You may also wish to do a party name search on “South” and/or “Maryland.” I have already done so, and found nothing at all entitled “South v. Maryland,” much less such a case name from 1856.

So once again, I ask: Do you have any cites for that, Achmed?

I stand corrected on the existence of South v. Maryland, having just been in the library and read it with my very own eyes. I have no idea why Findlaw does not recognize its existence. I still can’t find it anywhere online, so if somebody has a good link to the case, feel free to post it.

Nevertheless, now that I’ve read the case, I can report that the gun nuts don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re just repeating the same old glurge over and over again without ever bothering to read or understand the case law themselves.

Not only did the gun lobby have to go back 145 years to find a halfway decent case, but the only issue before the Court in South was whether a sheriff was liable on his bond for allowing a mob to beat up a guy trying to foreclose on somebody else’s mortgaged property. The suit failed because the defense of the public is not a “ministerial duty,” and “The specific enumeration of duties in the bond in this case includes none but those that are classed as ministerial.” So South is great authority if you’re trying to defend a sheriff’s bond, but lousy authority for defense of a modern day tort suit.