When Seconds Count, Police Under No Legal Obligation To Act

As with many hot-button issues, Americans are sharply divided over Second Amendment rights. Liberals argue that only trained police officers should be armed and citizens should rely on them for protection. Observers from the Right counter that a trained “good guy with a gun” could limit the number of casualties in the critical minutes before police officers get to the scene.

Both arguments share a fatal flaw: Neither the police, nor private citizens, are legally obligated to come to your aid if you are being assaulted, robbed, or injured.

To Protect and Serve?

U.S. courts have ruled repeatedly that police officers cannot be held liable for failing to respond, except when they have affirmatively promised protection to a particular person—say, a witness testifying against a gangbanger. The facts in such cases are chilling:

  • The District of Columbia Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a case against the Metropolitan Police Department for negligent failure to provide adequate police services in a 1981 ruling. Three women who were raped, beaten, and tortured for 14 hours by two home invaders sued, because two of them were reassured that officers were on their way each time they called 911 over a period of 30 minutes. They had reported two men had broken into their townhouse and were assaulting their roommate. Eventually, the intruders discovered the presence of these other roommates.
  • In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 10th Circuit and ruled that police do not have a constitutional duty to protect, even when a court-issued protective order requires arrest for a violation. Authorities in that case failed to take action when a woman repeatedly called the police station to report her estranged husband had kidnapped her three daughters. As the mother tried futilely to get help, the husband murdered the girls and went to the station where he was shot and killed in a  gun battle.
  • The Manhattan Supreme Court dismissed a 2013 suit against New York City by a Long Island man attacked on an uptown No. 3 subway by a Brooklyn man who had stabbed his girlfriend, her mother, and his stepfather, and then ran a stranger over with a car, in a drug-fueled killing spree. Two police officers on the lookout for the perp watched from the motorman’s cab as he repeatedly stabbed the passenger, who managed to wrestle him to the ground and disarm him—at which point the officers left the safety of the locked cab and handcuffed the murderer. One of the officers admitted to a grand jury that he didn’t come to the passenger’s aid because he feared the assailant could be armed with a gun.

Law enforcement officers swear an oath of honor to protect the community at large, not to protect specific individuals. And some cannot act, because of department protocols—for instance, Orlando police treated the Pulse Nightclub terror attack as a hostage negotiation while waiting two hours for a tactical unit to arrive—or because they are ordered to stand down, as was the case in Chicago during a Trump campaign rally in March 2016.

There is no guarantee a cop will be around when you need one, or that one will intervene even if they are present.

Mistakes Were Made

The Associated Press called the February 14 mass murder at Stoneman Douglas High School an “abject breakdown at all levels” that involved errors by a plethora of social workers, mental health counselors and school administrators, as well as local and federal law enforcement.  

Home visits documenting violent behavior and warnings from several people—including a tip about the killer’s plans that had been passed on to the school resource officer by the Broward County Sheriff’s office—could have prevented the attack or the shooter’s  ability to purchase a gun, but were routinely dismissed.

The atrocity was compounded by the incompetence or cowardice of the school resource officer and four other Broward County deputies on the scene, and by confusion over whether Coral Springs Police Department officers who entered the freshman building were tracking the shooter on a live security camera feed or viewing a tape-delayed recording.

Police departments have varying protocols when a lone officer is the first responder at the scene of an active shooter. While some allow the officer to stop a shooter “by arrest, by containment, or by use of deadly force,” others require waiting until other officers arrive and can form a “contact team.” Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel’s contention that he has given “amazing leadership” to the agency notwithstanding, it is unclear which protocol the Broward County Sheriff’s office had put into place. Clearly, there were enough armed deputies crouched behind their vehicles to have formed a contact team.

The Coral Springs Police Department apparently follows a very different active shooter protocol and stepped up.

Sgt. Jeff Heinrich was off duty and watering a baseball field at the school, where his wife teaches and his son is a student, when he heard the first rifle shots ring out. Though he was unarmed and out of uniform, he ran toward the sound of the gunfire. After rendering first aid to a student shot in the leg, he returned to the building where he met up with a member of his department’s SWAT team. He put an extra Kevlar vest over his t-shirt, borrowed a handgun and ran into the building with his colleagues.

Bye-Bye Bystander

Ten states—California, Florida, and Wisconsin  among them—enacted laws requiring people to notify law enforcement when a stranger is in peril. But moral obligation notwithstanding, in the United States there is no legal requirement to come to the rescue of another, unless he or she created the peril to the person, or has a “special relationship” with the person—for instance, a spouse, the parent or babysitter of a minor child, or a business owner with employees in the workplace.

In a 1907 case, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the manslaughter conviction of a married man who stashed his mistress in the basement instead of seeking medical attention after she deliberately overdosed morphine in an apparent suicide attempt, on the grounds that there was no duty to rescue. A century later, the Superior Court of New Jersey reversed a lower court decision and held that passengers in a car that rear-ended a motorcyclist had a duty to call for emergency assistance or to stay with the injured motorcyclist to ensure that another car didn’t run over him. In this case, the 18-year old driver and his friends made 44 cell phone calls over a two-and-a-half hour period, none of them to 911, and had fled the scene; the victim died when he was run over by another driver.

Before giving up all hope for humanity, consider there are also courageous people who rise to the occasion and put themselves in harm’s way to help others in danger. While the killer in Florida was fulfilling his desire to “become a professional school shooter,” unarmed teachers and students tried to disarm him, shielded students from the bullets, or helped people hide in classrooms:

  • Wrestling coach Chris Hixon raced towards the sound of gunfire in a golf cart and was killed while attempting to disarm the shooter.
  • Geography teacher Scott Beigel and JROTC Cadet Peter Wang, who opened doors to classrooms and shepherded students and faculty inside, were both killed. Anthony Borges was shot in the back and in both legs as he frantically tried to close and lock the door to a classroom, and helped save roughly 20 students. Culinary teacher Ashley Kurth pulled as many as 65 people into her classroom and hid them in a storage area, and journalism teacher Melissa Falkowski hid 19 students in a closet.
  • Football coach Aaron Feis was slain when he threw himself in front of several students to protect them from getting shot. JROTC Cadet Colton Haab hustled as many as 70 students into a JROTC classroom and covered them with Kevlar sheets. Haab, who survived, told a reporter that he was thinking about “how I’m going to make sure everyone goes home to their parents safely.”

How many people do you know who could be as brave, quick-thinking and level-headed in an active shooter scenario or other emergency?

An Army of One

Police officers are taught the “first rule of law enforcement” is to go home alive when their shift ends. Critics contend that this ethos leads to unnecessary civilian deaths. But as we saw in Parkland, Florida, there is a thin line between restraint and inaction.

While many armed citizens successfully confronted an armed assailant or stopped an assault, there is no guarantee that the good guy with a gun will put his or her life on the line to protect a stranger. In some cases, fear of legal jeopardy may also deter an armed bystander from intervening.

The harsh truth is that you are the only person you can count on to protect you and your family. Do you want to leave it to chance that the police or an armed bystander will get there in the nick of time, and will act? You’re forced to, because politicians who take donations from gun control activists have passed unreasonable gun control laws that effectively negate your Second Amendment rights.

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22 responses to “When Seconds Count, Police Under No Legal Obligation To Act”

  1. A couple of years ago when five officers were arrested in Baltimore and BLM was getting started I recall officers saying in response something to the effect: “We are not responsible for preventing crime, only investigating after the fact.”
    Currently our wonderful law enforcement apparatus is broken. Outstanding men and women are at risk for law suits and jail time for just doing their jobs.
    That famous line from the film Training Day is true: “It takes a wolf to catch a wolf.” These fellow citizens risk hardening their hearts and laying down their lives to stand between us and evil. GOD BLESS THEM.

  2. I was raised with the understanding that the police investigate crime after the fact. Nothing I’ve read since convinces me otherwise. That, after all, is the only way to limit the power of the police, who should be prevented from arresting people for imagined crimes which have not yet taken place. Today, it seems to me that people are looking for a “Daddy” to keep them safe. That’s asking a lot of a police force. On the other hand, I’m shocked by the cases listed here, where the police did not respond, or when citizens were not held responsible for helping someone they’ve injured inadvertently. So wrong! What goes with the law in this country??? How could the courts rule so badly? I’m assuming an administrative snafu or too many calls all at once in the failure of police to respond, but there is no excuse for a group of kids to leave a victim to die. What kind of justice is that?

  3. Those rulings were utter BS. If cops won’t do their damn jobs, then we have no reason to employ cops, and it’s every man for himself.

  4. Who is Behind Gun Control?
    Most U.S. Federal gun control legislation has been written, introduced, and sponsored by Jewish Congressmen and Jewish Senators.

    U.S. Federal Gun Control Legislation, 1968 – present

    1968: The Gun Control Act of 1968 comes from Congressman Emanuel Celler’s House bill H.R.17735. It expands legislation already attempted by the non-Jewish Senator Thomas Dodd. America’s biggest and most far-reaching gun law came from a Jew.

    1988: Senator Howard Metzenbaum sponsors Senate bill S.1523. It proposes legislation turning every violation of the Gun Control Act of 1968 into a RICO predicate offense, allowing a gun owner to be charged with federal racketeering offenses.

    1988: Senator Howard Metzenbaum co-sponsors a bill – S.2180 – to ban, or limit/restrict, so-called “plastic guns.”

    1990: Senator Herbert Kohl introduces bill S.2070, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which bans gun possession in a school zone. The law will later be struck down in court as unconstitutional.

    1993: Senator Howard Metzenbaum sponsors Senate bill S.653. It bans specific semiautomatic rifles, but also gives the Secretary of the Treasury the power to add any semiautomatic firearm to the list at a later date.

    February, 1994: The Brady Law, which requires waiting periods to buy handguns, becomes effective. Senator Howard Metzenbaum wrote the Brady Bill. Senator Metzenbaum sponsored the bill in the Senate. The sponsor of the bill in the House was Congressman Charles Schumer.

    1994: Senator Howard Metzenbaum introduces S.1878, the Gun Violence Prevention Act of 1994, aka “Brady II.” Congressman Charles Schumer sponsored “Brady II” sister legislation [H.R. 1321] in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    September, 1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 goes into effect, including a provision that bans the manufacture and possession of semiautomatic rifles described as “assault weapons.” [Note: true assault weapons are fully automatic, not semiautomatic]. That gun-ban provision was authored in the Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein and authored in the House by Congressman Charles Schumer.

    1995: Senators Kohl, Specter, Feinstein, Lautenberg and others introduce the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1995, an amended version of the 1990 school-zone law which was struck down in court as being unconstitutional.

    September, 1996: The Lautenberg Domestic Confiscation provision becomes law. It is part of a larger omnibus appropriations bill. It was sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg. It bans people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from ever owning a gun.

    1997: Senate bill S.54, the Federal Gang Violence Act of 1997, proposes much harsher sentences for people violating minor gun laws, including mandatory prison sentences and forfeiture of property. It was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Hatch, among others. It returns the idea of turning every violation of the Gun Control Act of 1968 into a RICO predicate offense.

    January, 1999: Senator Barbara Boxer introduces bill S.193, the American Handgun Standards Act of 1999.

    January, 1999: Senator Herbert Kohl introduces bill S.149, the Child Safety Lock Act of 1999. It would require a child safety lock in connection with transfer of a handgun.

    February,1999: Senator Frank Lautenberg introduces bill S.407, the Stop Gun Trafficking Act of 1999.

    February, 1999: Senator Frank Lautenberg introduces S.443, the Gun Show Accountability Act of 1999.

    March, 1999: Senator Frank Lautenberg introduces bill S.560, the Gun Industry Accountability Act of 1999.

    March, 1999: Senator Dianne Feinstein introduces bill S.594, the Large Capacity Ammunition Magazine Import Ban Act of 1999.

    May, 2000: Senators Feinstein, Boxer, Lautenberg, and Schumer sponsor Senate bill S.2515, the Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2000. It is a plan for a national firearms licensing system.

    January, 2001: Senators Feinstein, Schumer, and Boxer sponsor Senate bill S.25, the Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act of 2001. It is a nation-wide gun registration plan [apparently there were two versions of that Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act bill].

    May, 2003: Senators Feinstein, Schumer, Boxer, and others introduce legislation that would reauthorize the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, and, close a loophole in the law that allows large-capacity ammunition magazines to be imported into the U.S. The ban expired in September, 2004.

    October, 2003: Senators Feinstein, Lautenberg, Levin, and Schumer co-sponsor bill S.1774, designed to stop the sunset [ending] of the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988.

    March, 2005: Senator Frank Lautenberg introduces bill S.645, “to reinstate the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act,” in other words, to reinstate the 1994 assault-rifle ban [also known as the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994”] which expired in late 2004.

    March, 2005: Senator Dianne Feinstein introduces bill S.620, “to reinstate the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act,” in other words, to reinstate the 1994 assault-rifle ban [also known as the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994”] which expired in late 2004.

    July, 2005: Senator Dianne Feinstein introduces bill S.A.1621 – Fifty-Caliber Sniper Weapons. This amendment would convert all .50 BMG firearms to NFA weapons.

    July, 2005: Senator Dianne Feinstein introduces bill S.A.1622 – Fifty-Caliber Exclusion to S.397. This amendment would modify S.397 to allow suits when the firearm involved was a .50 caliber weapon.

    July, 2005: Senator Barbara Boxer introduces bill S.A.1633 – BATFE Safety Standards. This amendment allows law suits to continue/be brought if the product did not meet the safety standards as defined by the BATFE.

    July, 2005: Senator Barbara Boxer introduces bill S.A.1634 – ‘Sporting Use’ on Domestic Handguns. Applying ’sporting use’ clause requirements to domestic handguns could, almost completely, dry up the handgun availability in the United States.

    • Don’t care who is Jewish and who is not. And don’t care about your paranoia, either.

      • You should care. After the Jews disarmed Russians they killed 40 million Christians. Jews hate Christ, they hate Christians and they want us all dead. But you ignore history and you ignore Christ and you ignore God all might. You are smarter than everybody.

      • Well, I’m smarter than you. I’m not chasing ghosts. Jesus was Jewish, as was St. Paul. That’s good enough for me.

      • Please, Christ named the Jews, the Jews. Jew means those that reject the Gospel those that reject the teachings of Christ. Christ brought the Gospel. Christ taught the Gospel. So tell me how was Christ a Jew? Are you saying Jews are a race?

      • Jew comes from Judaism, the name of their religion. You need to calm down.

      • You are obsessed and making a fool of yourself. Seriously, consider getting help. You are totally out of control.

      • United with Israel is one of your favorites sites?? Don’t bother me Jew. I have better things to do than wasting my time discussing anything with your kind.

      • Do you know why the Jews killed Christ?? Jews then as now had certain expectations of their messiah. Jews expected their messiah to enslave their enemies, enslave the non-Jew. Christ preached forgiveness of ones enemies and peace making, Jews hated this idea so they killed him. Christ died because he refused to make you and every other non-Jew on earth a slave to the Jews. He died for your freedom and you worship those that would make you a slave? What is wrong with you?

      • Actually, the Jews handed Christ over to the Romans because they were afraid of the Romans. Jesus could not be controlled and was attracting too many supporters. In their defense, they had good cause to fear the Romans.

      • Pilate Washes his Hands
        When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but that instead a riot was breaking out, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “You shall bear the responsibility.” All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” So Pilate released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged and handed Him over to be crucified.…

  5. In my state of North Carolina you are told during CCW certification class that you never assist another person that is under attack unless they are with you or if the assailant has a firearm

      • That is also why arming teachers will never work.First responders are immune from lawsuits if they are doing their jobs legally but citizens are not immune from being destroyed in civil courts

      • Laws and regulations will have to be written to resolve the issue you raised. Unlike other bystanders teachers actually do have a legal obligation to help students in danger because they are acting in loco parentis, which is the “special relationship” exemption I discuss in the article.