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Legal Authority and Liability in Anti-Crime Activities: Citizens, Community Groups, Police and Private Security

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1993
82 pages
This study describes private citizens' authority to arrest, search, carry weapons, interrogate, and detain persons suspected of certain crimes; it then examines the issue of liability which has arisen when private individuals engage in fighting crime, typically private security officers.
These liabilities include a variety of torts, including false imprisonment and invasion of privacy. The authority and liability of private security companies and officers are compared to the findings concerning citizens. State regulation of private security companies and officers is analyzed to determine whether a similar model of State regulation could be used for the crime- combating activities of private citizens and community groups. State action was found to be an important issue that may limit the willingness of police departments to cooperate with community groups, private citizens, and private security. Substantial benefits can occur from police-private sector cooperation, but legal consequences both to the police and private individuals and groups must be considered. If police-private sector crime- combating relationships constitute State action and violate suspects' constitutional rights, then both the police and private actors may be liable under the "State action" doctrine. Some courts have held that prearranged plans and joint activity between the public and private sector can lead to a finding that the entire activity is regulated by constitutional norms, such as the fourth amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. This study concludes that the authority of citizens and community groups to combat crime is currently limited and that legislatures may want to expand the authority of community groups and citizens, as they have in the area of merchants' privilege. Extensive tables and charts, 60 notes, and a 31-item bibliography

Date Published: January 1, 1993