Crime Prevention and Victim Resources
Crime prevention is always more desirable than prosecuting crimes after they occur, and crime victims often need various types of assistance after a verdict is reached or a plea deal is brokered. This section includes articles and lists of resources pertaining to crime prevention and crime victims, including links to national and local nongovernmental agencies providing advocacy on behalf of victims and links to federal agencies. You will also find an overview of neighborhood watch programs, which engage community members in the prevention of neighborhood crime, an explanation of self-defense, how restitution works, the meaning and legality of a citizen’s arrest, and more.
In some situations a private citizen can conduct a warrantless arrest. These "citizen arrests" occur when ordinary people either detain a criminal or direct police to do so.
Someone conducting a citizen's arrest runs the risk of liability for a number of torts including false imprisonment, personal injury, assault, battery, and wrongful death. Obviously, the risk is increased when force is used, or where the accused is ultimately found non-guilty in court.
A citizen may not conduct an arrest for every kind of crime either; many misdemeanors do not justify a citizen's arrest. Even where a citizen's arrest is clearly justified the person making the arrest may only use "reasonable force." The linked articles provide detail on these and other issues.
As with citizen's arrest, a private citizen may defend themselves. As with someone conducting a citizen's arrest a person defending themselves must also use reasonable force. There are other important limitations on self-defense that effect when and how a person might use force for their protection.
Traditionally there was a duty to retreat and attempt to avoid violence before using force. This obligation has been limited or removed in some contexts, though this can vary greatly from state-to-state. Many states have a "castle doctrine" that allows the use of lethal force against intruders unlawfully entering the home. Others have a "stand your ground" law that permits the use of force in certain contexts, such as in your car.
In most instances the person attempting self-defense must be exposed to an imminent threat that created a reasonable fear of harm in the person defending themselves.
Neighborhood Watch is a nationwide crime prevention initiative managed by the National Sheriff's Association wherein citizen volunteers actively patrol their neighborhoods for criminal activity. The citizens who participate in the neighborhood watch program are not authorized to make arrests or undertake the other actions of a police officer. They are also not authorized to carry a gun as a result of their participation in the program and are discouraged from doing so, even if privately licensed.
Most neighborhood watch programs don't do more than communicate their observations to the police and report incidents they witness. Other activities, such as stopping someone for questioning, could expose the individual to liability for claims of false arrest or false imprisonment. Instead, these organizations focus on reducing the opportunities for crime and attempting to raise awareness of social issues that lead to crime.