Ask a Cop: If I See a Policeman Doing Something Illegal Can I Arrest Him?

A reader wants to know if he sees an officer do something plainly illegal, what should he do about it?

Got a question for the local police? Send it to brad.kava@patch.com and we'll forward it along. 

Question: If I See a policeman doing something illegal, can I arrest him?

Answer: "I can't imagine any time that someone would get out handcuffs and arrest an officer," says Sheriff's Deputy April Skalland.

"Maybe you see that on TV, but not in real life."

A Patch reader wondered not only about actions such as making an illegal turn or going through a stop sign, but what if a federal officer was enforcing federal marijuana laws in a place where the drug is legal.

Skalland didn't want to deal with the complexities of that issue. However, she did have advice for what to do if you see a cop do something that appears to be a violation of the same laws he or she enforces.

Report it to the department's Internal Affairs division, she says. And, possibly, report it to the officer's shift supervisor.

"A lot of times people see cops doing something and they don't know why. If they saw the facts A to Z, they would get it. Sometimes cops do the wrong thing and that's where internal affairs comes into play."

If you see a cop talking on a cell phone while driving, don't bother to report it. They are exempt under that law.

Next week: Why don't officers tell us how much a ticket will cost?

Christopher K Odell January 24, 2013 at 05:04 PM
I for one don't want to see citizen arresting anyone, I hardly trust cops to arrest people and I sure as hell don't trust your average citizen who's likely misinformed. Of course you should do something if you them beating down innocents but arrest is totally unrealistic.
Laura January 24, 2013 at 11:12 PM
I don't trust anyone, sometimes that includes cops, but there are alot there who do help and not hurt. I do understand there are times when an emergency happens and they need to floor it through the interestection on a red light (Freedom Blvd) but what about us? I saw a cop almost his a car coming. Can they warn us. I am not here to complain, but please help out the drivers on the road who really want to go home to their kids safe.
Cathy P. January 25, 2013 at 06:04 AM
Whatever illegal things a minority of police officers may do does not hold a candle to the sacrifices they make for their communities. So many people say they don't like or trust the police...until they need them, then their tone changes and they expect the police to put their lives on the line to protect them. How many of YOU would try to protect or save people that openly despise you? I would like to applaud the fine job our Watsonville Police Department in particular does for us every single day. If you think law enforcement is so bad here, try going to another country like El Salvador and try your luck there.
White in Watson January 26, 2013 at 02:46 AM
My only response to this person's question is: *you* couldn't!
Soserendipity February 17, 2013 at 05:23 AM
Actually...California Penal Code Section 837 states, "A private person may arrest another: (1) For a public offense committed or attempted in his presence. (2) When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not in his presence. (3) When a felony has been in fact committed, and he has reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it." A Public Offense is a felony, misdemeanor or infraction. (PC Sec. 16). In other words, a person in California who is not a law official or police officer can make what is commonly called a "citizen's arrest" if he or she witnesses a crime. For example, an Occupy protester who witnesses someone breaking glass or painting graffiti can hold an offender until police arrive. From incriminating information provided by the citizen's account, police will arrest the offender. You Can.


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