A Reminder that the Police have No Obligation to Protect You

Mises Institute – by Tho Bishop

The Broward County Sheriff’s office announced that Deputy Scot Peterson resigned after being suspended for not engaging the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He had been making over $75,000 a year as the school’s Student Resource Office, a position he had held since 2009.

While the report of Deputy Peterson’s inaction has understandable resulted in public outrage and disgust, it’s important to note that the Supreme Court has found that government police officers are under no obligation to actually protect the public.

This is why, as Chris Calton noted in an article earlier this year, it’s useful to recognize that “law enforcement” is really not synonymous with “security:”

The problems we find in the institution of the police, then, stem from two different areas. The first is the one that typically gets acknowledged, and that’s the government policies in running the police. The negative incentives that attract dangerous people, the lack of consequences for mistakes and abuses of authority, and the low criteria for earning a badge. Many libertarians argue for the privatization of the police as a way of reversing these incentives so that they have a positive effect. The recent string of sexual harassment allegations demonstrates the different levels of accountability between private individuals and those in government positions.

But when libertarians advocate privatizing the police – a position I’ll admit that I share – they are usually advocating the privatization of security. The motto of the police is “To Protect and Serve.” This is the motto of a security industry. But despite continuing to fly this banner, the police today hardly constitute a “security” service. In fact, the security industry is already privatized, and there are more private security guards employed in the United States and other countries than there are police officers.

The synonymous term for “police” is “law enforcement,” and this is a distinction worth remembering. The role of police is not, and has never been, to keep people safe; it has always only been to enforce the law.

When a public police force was first created, the idea of “law enforcement” and “public safety” almost went hand-in-hand. Most laws were actually designed to protect the person and property of private citizens (with exceptions, of course). So even if a public police force was less efficient than a private alternative, its job was still, for the most part, to keep people safe by enforcing the laws designed to protect them from violent criminals.

But as government has grown into the leviathan we know today, the law has expanded well beyond a small criminal code designed to protect life, liberty, and property. But the police, true to their role as law enforcement officers, are just as obligated to enforce these laws – the ones prohibiting marijuana use, lemonade stands, and collecting rainwater, to name only a few oft-cited legal absurdities – as they are to enforce laws protecting people from violent criminals. In fact, if we factor in the negative incentives police departments have guiding the allocation of their resources, it’s reasonable to conclude that an officer is more obligated to enforce the laws against non-violent criminals than the laws against violent ones.


7 thoughts on “A Reminder that the Police have No Obligation to Protect You

  1. they are here for 1 reason


    the sooner we all understand this , the sooner they will become irrelevant

  2. Affirmative duty to protect. Cf. Agency; Allegance; Due diligence; Reciprocial obligations; Dial 911 and Die: http://www.jpfo.org/filegen-a-m/dial911anddie.htm

    Campbell v. State of Washington, No. 09-35892 (9th Cir. 11/07/2011) (In an appeal from a judgment of the district court granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment in a Section 1983 complaint alleging that defendants deprived plaintiff’s developmentally-delayed daughter her Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process right to safe physical conditions while in involuntary state custody leading to her death, judgment is affirmed where defendants had no constitutionally required duty of care towards the victim because: 1) there was no special relationship between here and the state; and 2) there was no state-created danger.); http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2011/11/07/09-35892.pdf

    Morgan v. Gonzales, No. 05-74378 (9th Cir 07/26/2007) (As a general rule, the government is not liable for the actions of third parties. See Deshaney v. Winnebago County, 489 U.S. 189, 195-96 (1989). This rule is modified by two exceptions: “(1) the ‘special relationship’ exception; and (2) the ‘danger creation’ exception.” L.W. v. Grubbs, 974 F.2d 119, 121 (9th Cir. 1992). The special relationship exception comes, as its name suggests, from when the government enters into a special relationship with a party, such as taking the party into custody or placing him into involuntary hospitalization. Id. The danger creation exception arises when “affirmative conduct on the part of the state” places a party in danger he otherwise would not have been in. Id. We have repeatedly held that government agents may be liable for affirmative conduct placing a party in a danger of the government’s creation even though the general rule is that the Fourteenth Amendment does not impose a duty on government officers to protect individuals from third parties. See, e.g., Munger v. City of Glasgow, 227 F.3d 1082 (9th Cir. 2000) (permitting § 1983 suit against police officers who forced drunk bar patron outside in only jeans and a tee-shirt in subzero conditions leading to his death from hypothermia); Grubbs, 974 F.2d at 127 (permitting § 1983 suit against state employees who placed a female employee into a situation with a known violent sex offender who raped her); Wood v. Ostrander, 879 F.2d 583 (9th Cir. 1989) (permitting § 1983 suit against police officers who stranded woman in high-crime area in which she was subsequently raped). http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data2/circs/9th/0574378p.pdf

    Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005) (Respondent did not, for Due Process Clause purposes, have a property interest in police enforcement of the restraining order against her husband. Pp. 6-19. (a) The Due Process Clause’s procedural component does not protect everything that might be described as a government “benefit”: “To have a property interest in a benefit, a person … must … have a legitimate claim of entitlement to it.” Board of Regents of State Colleges v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577. Such entitlements are created by existing rules or understandings stemming from an independent source such as state law. E.g., ibid. Pp. 6-7. (b) A benefit is not a protected entitlement if officials have discretion to grant or deny it. See, e.g., Kentucky Dept. of Corrections v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 462-463. It is inappropriate here to defer to the Tenth Circuit’s determination that Colorado law gave respondent a right to police enforcement of the restraining order. This Court therefore proceeds to its own analysis. Pp. 7-9.); … As the Court of Appeals recognized, we left a similar question unanswered in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Social Servs., 489 U.S. 189 (1989), another case with “undeniably tragic” facts: Local childprotection officials had failed to protect a young boy from beatings by his father that left him severely brain damaged. Id., at 191-193. We held that the so-called “substantive” component of the Due Process Clause does not “requir[e] the State to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors.” Id., at 195. We noted, however, that the petitioner had not properly preserved the argument that–and we thus “decline[d] to consider” whether–state “child protection statutes gave [him] an ‘entitlement’ to receive protective services in accordance with the terms of the statute, an entitlement which would enjoy due process protection.” Id., at 195, n. 2. … Even if the statute could be said to have made enforcement of restraining orders “mandatory” because of the domestic-violence context of the underlying statute, that would not necessarily mean that state law gave respondent an entitlement to enforcement of the mandate. Making the actions of government employees obligatory can serve various legitimate ends other than the conferral of a benefit on a specific class of people. See, e.g., Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 482 (1995) (finding no constitutionally protected liberty interest in prison regulations phrased in mandatory terms, in part because “[s]uch guidelines are not set forth solely to benefit the prisoner”). The serving of public rather than private ends is the normal course of the criminal law because criminal acts, “besides the injury [they do] to individuals, … strike at the very being of society; which cannot possibly subsist, where actions of this sort are suffered to escape with impunity.” 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England 5 (1769); see also Huntington v. Attrill, 145 U.S. 657, 668 (1892). This principle underlies, for example, a Colorado district attorney’s discretion to prosecute a domestic assault, even though the victim withdraws her charge. See People v. Cunefare, 102 P. 3d 302, 311-312 (Colo. 2004) (Bender, J., concurring in part, dissenting in part, and dissenting in part to the judgment). http://supreme.justia.com/us/545/04-278/case.html

    Rivera v. State of Rhode Island, No. 04-1568 (1st Cir. 03/22/2005) (The state’s failure to protect an individual rarely amounts to a constitutional violation, even if the state’s conduct is grossly negligent.); http://laws.lp.findlaw.com/1st/041568.html

    Standard Fire Insurance Co. v. Proctor, No. AW-03-552 (USDC SDMD 10/07/2003) (A “legally cognizable special relationship” may be established in three ways: “(1) by statute or rule, McCray v. Maryland, 456 F.2d 1 (4th Cir. 1972); (2) by contractual or other private relationship, Rosenblatt v. Exxon Co., USA, 335 Md. 58, 642 A.2d 180 (1994)]; or (3) indirectly or impliedly by virtue of the relationship between the tortfeasor and a third party, Hartford Ins. Co. v. Manor Inn of Bethesda, Inc., 335 Md. 135, 642 A.2d 219 (1994).” Bobo v. Maryland, 346 MD. 706, 715, 697 A.2d 1371, 1376 (1997); http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/Opinions152/Opinions/standardfire1003.pdf

    Didzerekis v. Stewart, 41 F. Supp. 2d 840 (N.D. Ill. 1999) (An Illinois woman was married to a man with a history of violent criminal behavior and mental illness, who had previously attempted to murder her. She called 911 requesting emergency help at her home. While officers arrived at the residence, they did not make forced entry until approximately forty minutes later. They then discovered that the wife had suffered fatal knife wounds at her husband’s hands and that the husband had also stabbed himself in the chest. The woman’s estate and her surviving children sued the officers and the city. The lawsuit asserted that the failure of police to protect her against her husband’s violence violated her constitutional rights. The court found that the plaintiffs pled sufficient facts to state a claim for violation of the right to equal protection of the law, based on the fact that, even after the decedent made a 911 call requesting emergency help, “upon arriving at the scene, police did not enter her home, but instead waited outside,” despite alleged knowledge by the police department about the husband’s history of violence against his wife. The plaintiffs had thereby successfully alleged facts, if true, from which a reasonable jury could find that the city “maintained a practice which results in discrimination against women,” and that discrimination “motivated the Officers’ and the City’s actions” and resulted in the decedent’s injuries.); http://www.iml.org/LegalSection/topics/holding/municipalities/immunity/governmental/fed_districts.htm

    DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 109 S.Ct. 998 (1989) (There is no merit to petitioner’s contention that the State’s knowledge of his danger and expressions of willingness to protect him against that danger established a “special relationship” giving rise to an affirmative constitutional duty to protect. While certain “special relationships” created or assumed by the State with respect to particular individuals may give rise to an affirmative duty, enforceable through the Due Process [489 U.S. 189, 190] Clause, to provide adequate protection, see Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97; Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, the affirmative duty to protect arises not from the State’s knowledge of the individual’s predicament or from its expressions of intent to help him, but from the limitations which it has imposed on his freedom to act on his own behalf, through imprisonment, institutionalization, or other similar restraint of personal liberty.); http://laws.findlaw.com/us/489/189.html

    Westbrooks v. State, 173 Cal.App.3d 1203, 219 Cal.Rtr. 674 (1985) (The widow and sons of a motorist who drove into the void where a collapsed bridge had been, brought action against the State, county, and county deputy sheriff. The California Department of Transportation (Cal Trans) was aware that a violent storm with heavy rains had caused a bridge on State route 118 to collapse. A county deputy sheriff had observed the beginning of the collapse, reported it and requested assistance from Cal Trans. A jury award of $1,300,000 was reversed in part by the Court of Appeal which held: (1) the county deputy sheriff had no duty to warn drivers that the state highway bridge had collapsed during the storm, and his efforts to warn drivers did not in any way increase the risk of harm to users of the highway, and therefore the county was not liable to motorist’s wife and children; and (2) the judgment was upheld against the state because the Cal Trans was notified at 1:52 a.m. and at 2:35 a.m., but no Cal Trans personnel nor CHP officer appeared at the scene until 5:45 a.m., and that such delay was unreasonable.); http://www.copcrimes.com/brophy.htm#Hartzler

    Nearing v. Weaver, 295 Or 702, 670 P2d 137 (1983) (Where plaintiff delivered to police proof that her husband had been served with order restraining him from molesting family and then reported to police series of violations of order but police refused to arrest husband, court held that officers who knowingly failed to enforce judicial order issued under Abuse Prevention Act are potentially liable for resulting harm to psychic and physical health of intended beneficiaries of the order.); http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/annos/133ano.htm

    Bowers v. Devito, 686 F.2d 616 (7th Cir. 1982) (We need not decide whether this distinction is valid, for there is an alternative ground on which the dismissal of the complaint against these defendants must be upheld. Section 1983 imposes liability on anyone who under color of state law “subjects … any citizen … or other person … to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution …,” and thus applies only if there is a deprivation of a constitutional right. See, e.g., Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 699-701, 96 S.Ct. 1155, 1159-1160, 47 L.Ed.2d 405 (1976); Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 146-47, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 2695-96, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979); Bonner v. Coughlin, 545 F.2d 565, 567, 569 (7th Cir. 1976). There is a constitutional right not to be murdered by a state officer, for the state violates the Fourteenth Amendment when its officer, acting under color of state law, deprives a person of life without due process of law. Brazier v. Cherry, 293 F.2d 401, 404-05 (5th Cir. 1961). But there is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen. It is monstrous if the state fails to protect its residents against such predators but it does not violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or, we suppose, any other provision of the Constitution. The Constitution is a charter of negative liberties; it tells the state to let people alone; it does not require the federal government or the state to provide services, even so elementary a service as maintaining law and order. Discrimination in providing protection against private violence could of course violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But that is not alleged here. All that is alleged is a failure to protect Miss Bowers and others like her from a dangerous madman, and as the State of Illinois has no federal constitutional duty to provide such protection its failure to do so is not actionable under section 1983.); http://openjurist.org/686/f2d/616/bowers-v-a-md

    Davidson v. City of Westminister, 32 Cal.3d 197, 185 Cal.Rptr. 252 (1982) (A husband and wife who were assaulted in a laundromat while the assailant was under surveillance by officers, brought legal action against the city and the officers for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and for negligent investigation, failure to protect and failure to warn. The Supreme Court held that: (1) the mere fact that the officers had previously recognized the assailant from a distance as a potential assailant because of his resemblance to a person suspected of perpetrating a prior assault did not establish a “special relationship” between officers and assailant under which a duty would be imposed on officers to control assailant’s conduct; (2) factors consisting of officer’s prior recognition of assailant as likely perpetrator of previous assault and officer’s surveillance of assailant in laundromat in which victim was present did not give rise to special relationship between officers and victim so as to impose duty on officers to protect victim from assailant; and (3) victim could not maintain cause of action for intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, in view of fact that it was not alleged that officers failed to act for the purpose of causing emotional injury, and that in the absence of such an intent to injure, officer’s inaction was not extreme or outrageous conduct.); http://www.copcrimes.com/brophy.htm#Hartzler

    Warren v. District of Columbia (444 A.2d 1, 1981) ([O]fficial police personnel and the government employing them are not generally liable to victims of criminal acts for failure to provide adequate police protection … this uniformly accepted rule rests upon the fundamental principle that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular citizen … a publicly maintained police force constitutes a basic governmental service provided to benefit the community at large by promoting public peace, safety and good order.); http://forums.philosophyforums.com/showthread.php?t=6260

    Beauchene, 88 Cal. App. 3d at 347, 151 Cal. Rptr. at 798 (Respondeat superior: When it comes to the control of people, the background rule is that “a person owes no duty to control the conduct of another.” California courts have carved out an exception to that rule, “where a special relationship exists between the defendant and the injured party, or between the defendant and the active wrongdoer.” Id. (citing Tarasoff v. Regents of Univ. of Cal., 17 Cal. 3d 425, 435, 131 Cal. Rptr. 14, 23, 551 P.2d 334 (1976)); {‘Lectric Law Library}; http://www.lectlaw.com/

    Hartzler v. City of San Jose, 46 Cal.App.3d 6, 120 Cal.Rptr. 5
    (1975) (The administrator of the estate of Ruth Bunnell who had been killed by her estranged husband brought a wrongful death action against the city whose police department refused to respond to her call for protection some 45 minutes before her death. Mrs. Bunnell had called the police to report that Mack Bunnell had called saying he was on his way to her home to kill her. She was told to call back when Mack Bunnell arrived. The police had responded 20 times to her calls in the past year, and on one occasion, arrested her estranged husband for assaulting her. The Court of Appeal held that the police department and its employees enjoyed absolute immunity for failure to provide sufficient police protection. The allegations that the police had responded 20 times to her calls did not indicate that the police department had assumed any special relationship or duty toward her such as would remove its immunity.); http://www.copcrimes.com/brophy.htm#Hartzler

    Antique Arts Corp. v. City of Torrence, 39 Cal.App.3d 588, 114 Cal.Rptr. 332 (1974) (A silent burglar alarm installed on the premises of the store operated by the plaintiff was, during the course of a robbery by two armed men, activated at 3:32 p.m. and the alert message was relayed to the police department. The dispatch message to the units in the field was at 3:43 p.m., and a police unit arrived at the scene of the robbery at 3:44 p.m. The delay in the transmission of the dispatch enabled the robbers to complete the robbery and escape with jewelry and merchandise in the amount of $49,000. The Court of Appeal held that Govt. Code section 846 provides for immunity if no police protection is provided; or, if police protection is provided, but that protection is not sufficient.. “The statutory scheme makes it clear that failure to provide adequate police protection will not result in governmental liability, nor will a public entity be liable for failure to arrest a person who is violating the law. The statutory scheme shows legislative intent to immunize the police function from tort liability from the inception of its exercise to the point of arrest, regardless of whether the action be labeled ‘discretionary’ or ‘ministerial.'”); http://www.copcrimes.com/brophy.htm#Hartzler

    Susman v. City of Los Angeles, et al., 269 Cal.App.2d 803, 75 Cal.Rptr. 240 (1969) (An action was brought by several landowners against the City of Los Angeles and the State pleading eleven separate causes of action for damages arising out of the ‘Watts’ Riots’ of 1965. The Court of Appeal held that none of the allegations presented was sufficient to show any duty owed by any of the officials named as defendants to act to prevent or avoid the harm suffered by the plaintiffs.); http://www.copcrimes.com/brophy.htm#Hartzler

    Ne Casek v. City of Los Angeles, 233 Cal.App.2d 131, 43 Cal.Rptr. 294 (1965) (In an action against police officers and city for personal injuries sustained by Kathryne Ne Casek when she was knocked down on a sidewalk by two suspects who had been arrested by the officers, the Court of Appeal held the amount of force or method used by a police officer in attempting to keep an arrested person or persons in custody is a discretionary act for purpose of application of doctrine of immunity of government officials from civil liability for their discretionary acts, and therefore Ms. Ne Casek who was injured by two escaped suspects who had been handcuffed together could not maintain an action against the arresting officers based on the officer’s alleged negligence in using insufficient force to keep the prisoners in custody.); http://www.copcrimes.com/brophy.htm#Hartzler

    South v. Maryland, 59 U.S. (How.) 396, 15 L.Ed.433 (1856) (U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local law-enforcement had no duty to protect individuals, but only a general duty to enforce the laws. The Court held that a sheriff, as a public officer, was liable personally only for misfeasance or nonfeasance of ministerial acts, where the sheriff is bound to an individual for a fee or salary, but not for a breach of his public duty.); http://www.justia.us/us/59/396/case.html http://members.tripod.com/~mdean/immunity.html

    See, e.g., 70 Am. Jur.2d, Sheriffs, Police, and Constables § 94 (the rule throughout the United States is that there is no liability on the part of a law enforcement officer to individuals damaged as a result of an officer’s failure to preserve the peace or arrest lawbreakers); http://members.tripod.com/~mdean/immunity.html

    Kelly Mahon Tullier, Note, Governmental Liability for Negligent Failure to Detain Drunk Drivers, 77 Cornell L. Rev. 873, 875 (1992); http://members.tripod.com/~mdean/immunity.html

    Cf. South v. Maryland, 59 U.S. (How.) 396, 15 L.Ed.433 (1856); DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 489 U.S. 189, 109 S.Ct. 998, 1989 (1989); Calgorides v. Mobile 475 So.2d 560 (1985); Morris v. Musser, 84 Pa.Cmwth. 170, 478 A.2d 937 (1984); Warren v. District of Columbia 444 A.2d 1 (1983); Morgan v. District of Columbia 469 A.2d 1306 (1983); Bower v. DeVito, 686 F.2d 616 (1982); Shernov v. New York Transit Authority 55 N.Y.2d 175, 948 N.Y.S. 141 (1982); Chapman v. Philadelphia 290 Pa.Super. 324, 382 A.2d 753 (1981); Wuetrich v. Delia 155 N.J.Super. 324, 382 A.2d 929 (1978); Sapp v. Tallahassee 348 So.2d 363, cert.denied 354 So.2d 985 (1977); Jamison v. Chicago 48 Ill.3d 567 (1977); Silver v. Minneapolis 170 N.W.2d 206 (1969); Simpson’s Food Fair v. Evansville 272 N.E.2d 871; Keane v. Chicago 98 Ill.App.2d 460, 240 N.E.2d 321 (1968);

    Kotera v. Daioh International U.S.A. Corp., 179 Or.App. 253, 40 P.3d 506 (2002) (Again, agency includes a duty to protect the economic interests of the principal. Onita Pacific, 315 Or at 161.); http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/A100452.htm

    In re Unrein, 323 Or 285, 288, 917 P2d 1022 (1996) (A lawyer owes the public a duty of honesty and personal integrity.);

    Luria v. United States, 231 U.S. 9, 22 (1913) (Citizenship is membership in a political society, and implies a duty of allegiance on the part of the member and a duty of protection on the part of the society. These are reciprocal obligations, one being a compensation for the other.); http://laws.findlaw.com/us/231/9.html

    Sed vide: Illinois Ex rel Madigan v. Telemarketing Assocs., Inc., 538 U.S. 600, 612 (05/05/2003) (But the First Amendment does not shield fraud. See, e.g., Donaldson v. Read Magazine, Inc., 333 U.S. 178, 190 (1948) (the government’s power “to protect people against fraud” has “always been recognized in this country and is firmly established”); Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 340 (1974) (the “intentional lie” is “no essential part of any exposition of ideas”); http://laws.findlaw.com/us/000/01-1806.html


  4. Last I heard, OUR TAX MONEY ( as in the people) went towards POLICE SALARY
    That makes ME THE EMPLOYER AND YOU THE EMPLOYEE. The fact that it also goes towards roads, bridges (have you seen the conditions??) is another matter. As long as the pigs take OUR FKNG MONEY we have a say in the whole matter. If not, it becomes THEFT and therefore, as far as I’m concerned, the social contract is broken ….we owe them nothing but contempt, blah blah….you know the rest of it.

  5. Scott Peter…son..

    How appropriate. ..

    Petering around… not really doing any thing at 78k a year.

    Enforcement officer. ..Peter Son..

    Replied…through his attorney. ..

    I had to resign.

    If they ever find out I’ve been banging underage teens and selling dope on campus.

    It may affect my pension.

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