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Citizen's Arrest

 policeman holding handcuffs and his hand up

Based on the Training module "Basic Use of Force Laws" in Safety Member Certification, and the article "Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force" in the Church Security Guide.[1][2][3]

From the Bible

The parents were to arrest the rebellious son and bring him before the city elders (the local court) to be tried:

Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place (Deuteronomy 21:19).

Elijah (with the consent of the king) ordered the crowd to arrest the prophets of Baal:

And Elijah said unto them, "Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape." And they took them: and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there (1 Kings 18:40).


There have been movies and TV shows where one character places another under citizen's arrest. Sometimes people try to place a public figure under citizen's arrest for alleged crimes. The movie/TV scenes may or may not show a legally correct action. As for the citizen's arrest of a public figure, most of the time this is not a serious attempt but a ploy for public attention. Real attempts to arrest a public figure, especially a public official, have mostly been not successful, and sometimes have landed activists in jail.

There may be situations when a citizen's arrest could be made by a Church Safety Team member. But discretion should be used, considering whether it is necessary or wise.

On the Web and in the News

Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute (LII) and Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners (SGRP) - A citizen's arrest is defined as an arrest made by a person who is not a sworn law enforcement officer on duty within his or her jurisdiction. Depending on the state, there are stipulations to be met for it to be legal. According to LII, they "are lawful in certain limited situations;" or as stated by SGRP, this is "Under narrow circumstances."[4][5]

The Defenders, Las Vegas, Nevada - A blog article by this law firm begins with, "Believe it or not, it is perfectly legal in Nevada for a private citizen with no law enforcement experience to arrest another if a crime has been committed." The post goes into much detail. It explains the topic as covered by Nevada's law and how it is applied.[6]

Phoenix, Arizona, March 8, 2024 - A bill passed by the Arizona Senate would allow a private citizen who happens to be in a store, but is not an employee or security guard, to make a citizen's arrest for misdemeanor retail theft (less than the $2,000 value of a felony). There was a lot of public debate, pro and con, about the efficacy and wisdom of empowering private citizens to make arrests for misdemeanor retail theft. It had a second reading in the House on March 13 and has had several amendments. At the time of this writing, the bill is still in the AZ House Rules Committee.[7][8]

Sonoma, California, March 2, 2024 - A woman who transferred $513 worth of liquor from a shopping cart to totes and walked out of the door without making a purchase was watched by loss prevention personnel on surveillance cameras. She was stopped by a security guard before she got to the parking lot. When the guard detained her, she physically resisted. After being turned over to police, she was charged with felony robbery (since she physically resisted). She was also charged with possession of cocaine.[9]

Atlanta, Georgia, May 10, 2021 - The governor of Georgia signed a bill replacing an 1864 citizen's arrest law. The 1864 version was enacted to enable the apprehension of escaping slaves. The replacement bill was spurred by the killing of a black jogger in Brunswick. The new law places more conditions on citizen's arrest to restrict its use.[10]

Nelson, Lancashire, England, United Kingdom, June 2012 - A man in Nelson was watching a soccer tournament on TV. Through his window he noticed a young hoodlum prying lead off a window casing on the church next door. He went outside and confronted the thief, who then raised his pry or chisel to swing. The man hit the thief in self-defense then twisted his arm and pulled him to the ground.

During this encounter, the resident's phone made a pocket call to his father, who then suffered a heart attack but recovered. Police came, and the thief was taken in.[11]

What Is Citizen's Arrest?

Citizen's arrest is a criminal suspect being detained by a person or persons who are not on-duty sworn law enforcement officers in their own jurisdictions. Yes, "detain" seems like a broad term, but we'll get to that.

A Brief History of Citizen's Arrest

Citizen's arrest has ancient roots. Although ancient societies had laws for order and armies for defense, they did not have police. A thief or other criminal suspect was arrested by persons on the scene or by aggrieved parties and taken to the city elders for judgment. It was in the Middle Ages that governmental jurisdictions began to have law enforcement officers, such as county sheriffs in England. City police came later. Since they did not have modern communications and transportation, most of the arrests were still by citizens.

The concept of citizen's arrest in the United States was patterned after that in the Common Law of Britain. This was the pattern on the American frontier, when a citizen posse would be formed by the local sheriff or (in a territory) the U.S. marshal to chase down outlaws (often robbers). If a rancher caught a rustler, he would take him to town or send someone in to fetch the sheriff or marshal. The thief would then have to wait in the local jail for the circuit court judge to come and try him, providing he wasn't lynched by vigilantes before that.

Abuses of vigilante justice led states to codify citizen's arrest with definitions and specifications like those we have today.

Parameters of Citizen's Arrest

An old saying is that your rights end where the other person's rights begin. Thus laws set the parameters within which a citizen's arrest is legally valid. The purpose is to protect everyone's rights and to prevent abuse. A recent example of this is the change in Georgia's law.

Here are the general parameters of citizen's arrest (details may vary by state):

Risks of Citizen's Arrest

There are some risks, physical and legal, in making a citizen's arrest.

Is it an arrest?

Detaining a suspect can be called an arrest. Just stopping a person may be construed as a detainment, especially when they are told to stop. If it is just to ask a question, then they go, there is likely no problem. However, if you demand that they stay in place - do not leave - this kind of detainment can be considered a citizen's arrest. For instance, this may be a risk during verbal de-escalation. So how do we avoid false arrest?

Before You Act

In some situations, who may make a citizen's arrest and how they may do it depends on the laws of the state. Citizen arrest laws vary from state-to-state, and as can be seen in Georgia and Arizona, they are subject to change. For instance:


Use citizen's arrest only when necessary, and do so with caution. It is only to hold the suspect for the police. First, know what your state's laws are concerning citizen's arrest.

Training Resources

The issue of citizen's arrest is addressed in the Safety Member Certification training module "Basic Use of Force Laws." Although this topic is not mentioned in the Church Security Guide article "Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force," this article does recommend being trained and drilled in unarmed control and self-defense. This will enable you to gain control of a violent person, which can be considered a lawful citizen's arrest.

Two Sheepdog Church Security weekly articles over two-and-a-half years apart are about citizen's arrest. They have the same title, "Hold On."[12][13]


  1. Kris Moloney, "Basic Use of Force Laws," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [] .
  2. Kris Moloney, "Self Defense Laws, Your Rights and Use of Force," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [] .
  3. Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [] .
  4. Staff, "Citizen's Arrest," Legal Information Institute | Cornell Law School, no date [] .
  5. Staff or law partner, "Citizen's Arrest," Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners, no date [] .
  6. Richard A. Harris, et al., "Citizen's Arrest: What You Need to Know About Arrests by a Private Person (NRS 171.126)," The Defenders, no date [] .
  7. Howard Fischer, "Bill would extend permissions for a citizen arrest," Herald/Review, March 10, 2024 [] .
  8. Staff, "SB 1613 | Arizona Senate Bill," FastDemocracy, after March 13, 2024 [] .
  9. Chase Hunter, "Liquor thief placed under citizen's arrest at Sonoma Market," The Sonoma Index-Tribune, March 6, 2024 [] .
  10. Marty Johnson, "Kemp signs bill repealing citizen's arrest law after Ahmaud Arbery shooting," The Hill, May 10, 2021 [] .
  11. Emily Allen, "Plasterer makes citizen's arrest on hoodie he caught stealing lead from church window while standing on vase taken from grave," Daily Mail, June 27, 2012 [] .
  12. WGV, "On Hold," Sheepdog Church Security, September 21, 2022 [] .
  13. WGV, "On Hold," Sheepdog Church Security, February 24, 2020 [] .