What’s a Citizen’s Arrest and When Can It Be Done?

Many people think that police officers or agents who have the training and credentials can perform arrests. However, there are situations in which this power extends to members of the public. Citizen’s arrest is a term referring to a member of the public, other than a law enforcement officer, having the power to arrest an individual who is committing or has committed an offence.

Security guards and other people who may not have the authority that police officers have often use powers granted in citizen’s arrest.

In this article, we’ll explain what citizen’s arrest is, the risks involved in doing it, and what situations it can be done in.

Are citizens’ arrests legal?

In NSW, the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) states that a person other than a police officer is legally allowed to arrest someone.

A private citizen can perform a citizen’s arrest if the offender is committing an offence or has committed an offence.

They must take an arrested person with any property found on them to a police officer as soon as possible.

Limitations of citizen’s arrest

To perform a citizen’s arrest, you must have a justifiable cause to do so. If you don’t bring the arrested person to a police officer as soon as possible, you could potentially find yourself facing charges for assault, false imprisonment or deprivation of liberty.

Any action involved in a citizen’s arrest must be reasonably proportionate. You should only use the amount of force necessary to restrain the person. If you use too much excessive force to perform an arrest, you may leave yourself open to criminal charges.

When can you perform a citizen’s arrest?

Generally, it is best to leave the arrest of an offender to a police officer. When performing a citizen’s arrest you are open to the risk of criminal charges of your own.

Very rarely are there situations where a citizen’s arrest is necessary.

If the offender is a person you know or there is not much reason to perform a citizen’s arrest because you have positive identification to report the offender to a police officer.

If, for example the offence is theft, and the offender is unarmed, consider the following before performing a citizen’s arrest:

  • The safety of yourself and others
  • Rights of an individual when performing an arrest
  • You can establish that an offence is taking place or has taken place – it cannot be out of suspicion

It may be safe to perform a citizen’s arrest on an unarmed offender. However, you must be absolutely sure that the offender is unarmed and that you can physically restrain the person. In addition, you must establish that the offence has or is taking place.

In the case of theft, it is best to arrest the offender if they have left the shop’s premises. You should also have physical evidence of the stolen item/s taken from the offender. When performing a citizen’s arrest you must also state to the offender that they are being arrested and the reason for the arrest.

However, there have been many reports where citizen’s arrest can end quite tragically. In early May 2016, a 47 year-old man suffered a suspected heart attack and later died after being detained by staff of a NSW equipment store. This resulted in the NSW police issuing a public notice warning against performing citizen’s arrest. Often the risks of performing a citizen’s arrest outweighs its benefits.

In summary

It is best to leave the arrest of an offender to a police officer. Call 000 if you believe that an offence has occurred. Police officers are qualified to perform an arrest and know the relevant measures to perform an arrest.

For the average citizen, it can be difficult to determine what degree of force is necessary to restrain a person. You also risk the safety of yourself and others as more than often offenders can be violent.

The best action for any bystander witnessing an offence is to ensure you are safe, monitor the situation, and contact the police.

If you have any further concerns, considering talking to a criminal lawyer.

Have more questions? Contact a LawPath consultant on 1800 529 728 to learn more about customising legal documents and obtaining a fixed-fee quote from Australia’s largest legal marketplace.

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