No Right to Police Protection in the United States

The author explains case law from the United States Supreme Court describing that citizens do not have the right to police protection.

The courts have decided that you have no right to expect the police to protect you from crime! Incredible as it may seem, the courts have ruled that the police are not obligated to even respond to your calls for help, even in life threatening situations! To be fair to the police, I think that many, and perhaps most, officers really do want to save lives and stop dangerous situations before people get hurt. While case law dates back to the early 1960's, a leading case on the topic is Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981) when the Court stated "fundamental principle of American law is that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen." In fact, the first precedent established by the United States Supreme Court regarding protecting citizens dates back to the late 1930's in the case of Erie Railroad Co. Vs. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 82 L.Ed. 1188) when the Court stated "there is no federal general common law. Congress has no power to declare substantive rules of common law applicable in a state whether they be local in their nature or 'general,' be they commercial law or a part of the law of torts. And no clause in the Constitution purports to confer such a power upon the federal courts." The seminal case establishing the general rule that police have no duty under federal law to protect citizens is DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (109 S.Ct. 998, 1989; 489 U.S. 189 (1989)). The court in DeShaney held that no duty arose as a result of a "special relationship," concluding that Constitutional duties of care and protection only exist as to certain individuals, such as incarcerated prisoners, involuntarily committed mental patients and others restrained against their will and therefore unable to protect themselves.

Yet, gun rights opponents rarely, if ever, speak of these precedents but citizens need to be aware that they have every right to self defense and to protect themselves. Some states have passed state statutes that reiterate that citizens have no right to police protection. Such is the case of California's Government Code, Sections 821, 845, and 846, which state in part: "Neither a public entity or a public employee may be sued for failure to provide adequate police protection or service, failure to prevent the commission of crimes and failure to apprehend criminals." Citizens injured because the police failed to protect them can only sue the State or local government in federal court if one of their officials violated a federal statutory or Constitutional right, and can only win such a suit if a "special relationship" can be shown to have existed, which DeShaney and its progeny make it very difficult to do. The most recent case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005) was a 7-2 decision by the United States Supreme Court that provided that a town and its police department could not be sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for failing to enforce a restraining order, which had led to the murder of a woman's three children by her estranged husband. Luckily, there is a little known law known as the "Castle Doctrine." The "Castle Doctrine" is an American legal doctrine that arises from English Common Law that designates one's place of residence (or, in some states, any place legally occupied, such as one's car or place of work) as a place in which one enjoys protection from illegal trespassing and violent attack. It then goes on to give a person the legal right to use deadly force to defend that place (his/her "castle"), and/or any other innocent persons legally inside it, from violent attack or an intrusion which may lead to violent attack. The "Castle Doctrine" also has a lengthy beginning dating back 1895 in the case of Beard v. U.S. (1895). This is sometimes called the "Stand Your Ground" doctrine and states that a man who was "where he had the right to be" when he came under attack and "...did not provoke the assault, and had at the time reasonable grounds to believe, and in good faith believed, that the deceased intended to take his life, or do him great bodily harm...was not obliged to retreat, nor to consider whether he could safely retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground." Many states have statutes of 'No Duty to Retreat" regardless of where the attack occurs.

As of the 28th of May, 2010, 31 States have some form of Castle Doctrine and/or Stand Your Ground law. Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming have adopted Castle Doctrine statutes, and other states (Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington) are currently considering "Stand Your Ground" laws of their own. An aggressor whose victim fights back in self-defense may not invoke the doctrine of self-defense against the victim's legally justified acts.

While this concerns police protection, or lack thereof, you should phone the police but should the police not arrive or not timely arrive, be prepared to defend yourself and your family. Remember that the police have no liability for failing to protect you and you may be required to defend yourself and others. It is advisable to check your state laws on the "Castle Doctrine" or a "No Duty to Retreat" doctrine to learn what rights you have in defense of yourself and others. It could be the difference between life and death.

Kirk Menard is Managing Partner of Advanced Investigative Technologies, LLC, is an approved instructor of the private investigator course in Louisiana, and is an accomplished paralegal with extensive knowledge of state and federal statutes. Advanced Investigative Technologies, LLC is the largest investigative agency in Louisiana with an arsenal of over 40 knowledgeable and skilled investigators.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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