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How to Make a Citizen’s Arrest

You see someone doing something illegal and there are no police officers around. Do you have the right to play cop? Here’s the lowdown.


  • : Making a citizen’s arrest can put you at risk for physical injury and lawsuits. If you witness a crime, the best thing to do is call the authorities.
  • Step 1: Know the law Know the law. Citizen’s arrest laws vary from state to state. Some states only allow citizen’s arrests for felonies.
  • Step 2: Follow the rules Follow the same rules as a police officer. That means you must have probable cause that a crime was committed, and you can only use reasonable force to detain the person—though restraining them at all is not advisable.
  • Step 3: Weigh the circumstances Weigh the circumstances. Detaining someone who’s selling drugs to a child will be viewed quite differently by the courts than handcuffing someone to a traffic sign for not picking up after their dog.
  • Step 4: Make your move Tell the alleged wrongdoer, 'I am not a police officer, but I’m effecting a citizen’s arrest.' Instruct them to stay put until the police arrive.
  • TIP: If there’s time, call the police before you make your move.
  • Step 5: Proceed with caution Proceed with caution. If the person resists or flees, let them go and have the authorities take over.
  • TIP: Before you take off after someone in hot pursuit, keep in mind that if you chase someone into traffic and a vehicle hits them, you could be hit with attempted murder or manslaughter charges.
  • Step 6: Pat yourself on the back As authorities slap the cuffs on the hoodlum you apprehended, give yourself a big pat on the back for making the world just a little bit safer.
  • FACT: In July 2008, four antiwar activists were arrested in Des Moines, Iowa, after they tried to make a citizen’s arrest of George W. Bush’s former adviser Karl Rove for war crimes.

You Will Need

  • Restraint
  • Common sense

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