Where Are They When You Need Them?


Where Are They When You Need Them?

When The Police Fail To Act

I must admit that I don’t plan on having any unnecessary interactions with the police. A nice hi-and-bye exchange is good for me. Despite my internal reservations regarding police, I recognize that there are times in life when police interaction is necessary, such as in a crisis or to restore order in a situation. This past week, I researched the U. S. Supreme Court’s stance on the role of police in rescue missions and in crisis situations. I researched U.S. Supreme Court cases because the Supreme Court is the highest federal court and, therefore, the decisions made by this court are to be followed by everyone in the United States. What I found brought chills to my spine. I found that police do not have a constitutional duty to protect citizens.

In DeShaney v. Winnebago County (1989), the court stated, “But nothing in the language of the Due Process Clause itself requires the State to protect the life, liberty, and property of its citizens against invasion by private actors… The Clause is phrased as a limitation on the State’s power to act, not as a guarantee of certain minimal levels of safety and security.” In other words, the state has restrictions on how it exerts its power over people but has no obligation to guarantee security to anyone.

In Castle Rock v. Gonzales (2005), the Supreme Court spoke on the discretion of police officers, stating, “A benefit is not a protected entitlement if officials have discretion to grant or deny it,” and “A well-established tradition of police discretion has long coexisted with apparently mandatory arrest statutes.” Therefore, police have the discretion to help you and, because of this discretion, the police “helping you” is not a benefit that is a protected entitlement. Additionally, even if the police are supposed to arrest someone, they have the discretion to make such an arrest.police

Based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s views, people apparently can’t rely on police protection or reasonably expect to have a successful lawsuit against police for failing to act. However, some people are optimistic that a modern court may view the role of police differently. These optimistic individuals have filed two lawsuits in Florida State Courts that may one day come before the U.S. Supreme Court and change the legal duty that police have to act.

In June of this year, a lawsuit was filed against Orlando police officers regarding the 2016 mass murder shooting at the Pulse nightclub. The lawsuit alleges, among many things, that some police officers stayed outside the club as the massacre took place. In this tragedy, 49 people were killed and over 50 others were wounded.

In April of this year, a lawsuit was filed against a former Broward County Sheriff officer for his actions on February 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, during a school

Swat officers with gun and shield

shooting. In this unfortunate event, 17 people were killed. The lawsuit alleges that the former Broward County Sheriff officer failed to enter the school during the shooting. The former sheriff was an armed resource officer at the school.

The general public should follow these two cases very closely. Not only do both allege that officers failed to act, they both allege officers waited outside buildings when they knew people were getting slaughtered inside. If police ever had a duty, shouldn’t it be to protect those who are in locations where they are known to be vulnerable with less than adequate means to defend themselves? (Last I checked, you can’t have a firearm for protection in a club or in high school.) Additionally, both of these cases may include some type of video evidence, as limited footage has been leaked from both shootings. Such footage may play a pivotal role in how these cases are viewed by the public.

The U.S. Supreme Court is made up of people. People have opinions and opinions change. This is why the law is ever-changing. I’m not sure what law changes lie ahead; however, I pray a change is made regarding police and their legal duty to act.


1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/489/189
2. https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/04-278.ZS.html
3. https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/08/us/pulse-shooting-civil-lawsuit/index.html
4. https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/30/us/parkland-school-resource-officer-sued/index.html