Stop In The Name Of…Walmart?


Yesterday’s blog topic prompted a question regarding the arrest powers of private citizens. Here’s a follow up to my answer.

Stop In The Name Of…Walmart?

Since I’m a former police detective turned writer I spend a great deal of time reading about my present day counterparts. I also enjoy seeing how law-enforcement officers of yesteryear handled the complex issues of their day. Perhaps my all-time favorite examples of police work at its finest are the old black-and-white episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.


One episode in particular stands out above the rest. It’s the show where gas station attendant and all round goofball Gomer Pyle takes it upon himself to make a citizens arrest. Small town deputy, Barney Fife makes an illegal U-turn prompting Gomer to chase after him on foot while yelling in that southern drawl he’s so famous for, “Citizen’s arrest, citizen’s arrest!”


The scene is hilarious, but did you know that it’s really true that private citizens can make arrests for certain crimes. However, even though that law allows it, I don’t recommend that you or any of your loved ones take it upon yourselves to save your neighborhoods from masked bandits, drug lords, mafia hit men, or foreign terrorists. Doing so could result in great bodily harm and if handled improperly, the loss of everything you own through civil lawsuits. Courts lean heavily against the use of force by non-police officers during arrest situations.

Should the situation arise where you feel that you simply must apprehend the local candy bar thief there are certain guidelines that citizens must follow when detaining a criminal. Most states require that a civilian has either personally witnessed the crime or that they are certain a felony has been committed and they’ve detained the guilty person.


The most common offense in which citizens make arrest is shoplifting. Department stores frequently employ loss-prevention personnel whose primary duty is to prevent the theft of merchandise by shoplifters. Sometimes those workers are required to physically detain a thief until the police arrive. They must do so using whatever means is necessary and in many cases the employees have never received any defensive-tactics training nor have they been taught proper arrest techniques. This lack of training further increases the potential for bodily harm and the potential of a lawsuit.

In most cases private security guards are not sworn police officers and have only the same powers of arrest as ordinary citizens. Sometimes local governments permit security guards employed at such places as shopping malls and construction sites to make lawful arrests for minor crimes such as trespassing. These uniformed guards have no authority outside the property where they are employed.

There is a provision in the law that allows a police officer or sheriff to command the assistance of a private citizen in the case of an emergency. In this instance, the citizen is required by law to aid the officer with the apprehension of a dangerous criminal, or simply to help an officer subdue an unruly suspect. This law stems from the days of the Old West when a sheriff needed a posse to round up bank robbers or horse thieves. It’s a law that rarely used today, but the option is still available.

I know from experience that it’s much safer to write about arrests than it is to actually slap the cuffs on a disorderly criminal who may have nothing to lose by being violent. So, my best advice to you is to send your protagonists after the bad guys, on paper.

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The Bulletin Board

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From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO – An anti-war protester confronted former Bush administration aide Karl Rove while he spoke at a San Francisco mortgage bankers’ meeting.

A statement by the group Code Pink identified the woman as 58-year-old Janine Boneparth, who tried to handcuff Rove in what she called a citizen’s arrest for “treason.”

From the Associated Press

EUSTIS, Fla. – A rookie police officer in central Florida has been fired after supervisors learned that he Tasered a teenager at a birthday party that involved underage drinking.

The officer was a guest at the party. He was not on duty.

I’m going under the knife on November 3rd to repair a ruptured disc in my neck. Hopefully, I won’t be out of commission for very long. Author/NYC medical examiner, Jonathan Hayes, will be filling in for me on the 3rd while my surgeon slices and dices away on my flesh and bones. I go today for my first pre-op visit, whatever that means.

I’m pleased and excited to announce that Jonathon will soon be joining us as a regular blogger on The Graveyard Shift.

10 replies
  1. Peg H
    Peg H says:

    Good luck on the surgery, Lee.

    “nothing like being able to get rid of a pain in the neck.”

    Hmmmm, I know a few pains in the neck I’d like to get rid of…just saying.

  2. l.c.mccabe
    l.c.mccabe says:


    I wish you well with your surgery and I hope that you are planning on voting before that day.

    I would hate to have you miss out on casting your ballot on election day due to being in the hospital or post-op *whatever*.

    Take good care of yourself.


  3. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    I like the bulletin board, too.

    Lee, how about addressing citizens filing private charges (like harassment, etc.) at magistrate’s offices. Most people aren’t aware that they can do something like that. A lot of stores file their own complaints for retail theft, too, instead of involving the police.

  4. SZ
    SZ says:

    Oh Lee, you slay me so ! That woman could have been me in San Francisco.

    As for wanting to make a personal arrest, don’t get me started. I am dealing with identity theft. It is shocking what these people are doing. They spent a lovely time downtown as I viewed my bank daily. A computer company has video I can not view with out a detective. So I may never get to see it. =(

    Lee, also like the bulletin board.

  5. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    I saw the article, Terry. I’m not a big fan of Taser use without extensive training.

    Thanks for letting me know about the photo. You, too, SZ. I hope it’s okay now.

  6. Terry
    Terry says:

    Our local paper had an article that Taser Parties are becoming the new Tupperware Parties. Women can buy them in a variety of colors and patterns. Interesting, although it did happen to coincide with my recent blog posts on “he fights/she fights” when one of the guests, after firing at a target and watching the display, said she’d hate to have to use it on another person.

    (And I’m getting one of those little “X in a box” things instead of one of your pictures, Lee. — right above the comment on shoplifting.)

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