Citizen’s arrests help catch criminals

COAST CITIES — Shoplifting offenses make up the majority of citizen’s arrests, but not paying a restaurant check, sneaking a free ride on the commuter train and indecent exposure also make the list of crimes that someone other than an officer was willing to go to court and testify for.
In January, there were 38 citizen’s arrests in the North County cities that are served by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.
Of those arrests, five included domestic violence incidents, six were for fighting and one was for disturbing the peace, according to Alfred Stumpfhauser, crime analyst at the San Marcos Sheriff’s Department.
Restaurateurs performed two of the citizen’s arrests, an agent working on the Sprinter made one citizen’s arrest and a private citizen who witnessed an act of indecent exposure made one, he said.
But 21 of the citizen’s arrests were for shoplifting offenses, which are mostly performed by a hired agent.
“The most common and classic case is the loss prevention officer in a retail store, when security people witness a crime that wasn’t committed in (police) presence,” Stumpfhauser said.
When authorities respond to a shoplifting call, they don’t make the arrest unless asked to, he said.
A citizen’s arrest can be made on public offense crimes, when the public is the victim and not an individual, according to Sgt. Robin Lawrence of the county’s Encinitas Station.
It can also be made if the crime was a personal act toward someone.
“A citizen can make a citizen’s arrest if someone stole something from them,” she said.
Lawrence said citizen’s arrests are very common and that deputies carry citizen’s arrest forms with them.
The forms require a signature from the person who witnessed or heard the incident.
She said sometimes the deputies receive a call for service but people end up not desiring prosecution or wanting to sign the form.
“Some people back out. We’ll write the report but we won’t seek prosecution,” she said.
A citizen’s arrest takes place when a private person or a police officer who acts on behalf of a private person takes a suspect into custody in a lawful manner, according to the San Diego Police Department website:
“In the case of a misdemeanor — a lesser crime than a felony that is generally punishable by imprisonment in the county jail not exceeding six months or by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or both — the private person involved must see or hear the crime committed, sign the arrest form, and agree to testify in court before the officer will take the person into custody.”
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department sums it up on their website:
“You have the right to arrest another person for a criminal act they commit in your presence. Unless absolutely necessary, you should avoid taking direct action and call us to avoid being injured or sued for false arrest. In some specific situations, limitations in the laws may make it necessary for a deputy sheriff to have you make a citizen’s arrest. In this case, you must sign a private person’s arrest form, but the deputy will physically take the person into custody and ensure that they are properly arraigned in court. You may be required to testify in court.”
According to the San Diego Police Department, “If not for citizen’s arrests, some persons would not be arrested for committing misdemeanors. This is because a police officer can arrest a person for a misdemeanor only if the crime is committed or attempted in his or her presence.”
Crimes that are felonies are excluded from needing a citizen to assist because felonies are a higher crime and come with a higher punishment, and deputies can make felony arrests without a crime being committed in their presence as long as there is enough probable cause, Lawrence said.
But for the private citizen, Lawrence said that a person can detain someone if they have committed a crime in that person’s presence.
She said that people who are in a situation where they feel it’s necessary to detain an individual should use only as much force as necessary.
In Carlsbad, three construction workers became local heroes and were honored last month by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis for stopping a gunman who was on a firing rampage at Kelly Elementary School in October 2010.
On Jan. 20, 2011, the Rotary Club of San Diego presented a 2010 Salute to Local Heroes to Steven Kane, of Jamul, Carlos Partida and Mario Contreras, both of Chula Vista, who tackled the gunman and detained him until police arrived.
“These guys didn’t have any law enforcement credentials yet they knew a serious crime had occurred and knew who did it,” Stumpfhauser said. “We know they did the right thing.”
He said January’s six citizen’s arrests for fighting stemmed from three incidences: one incident resulted in one citizen’s arrest, another one ended up with two citizen’s arrests and one incident had an outcome of three citizen’s arrests.
But the department investigates each citizen’s arrest to be sure it’s valid, Lawrence said.
“If, through our investigation, we determine there wasn’t a crime but that person is just blaming someone for something — there is an investigation into each citizen’s arrest,” she said.
Occasionally, there are people who want to arrest each other, such as in a bar fight.
“If they are demanding to arrest each other, we might just have to accommodate that,” she said.
Ultimately, the district attorney will decide who the primary instigator is, she said.
“If you’re walking down the street and see someone commit a crime, you can call an officer,” Stumpfhauser said.
Capt. Lisa Miller, of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, said that the department will come out to calls and help, whether the situation is criminal or civil.
“Let us assess it from a law enforcement perspective,” she said.
“When we are going to tell you that you can make a citizen’s arrest on your neighbor — is that really what you want to do? So you make the arrest and you are the one who has to go to court and testify,” she said.

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