Police are government workers, salaries paid from government coffers — tax dollars and, yes, fines, sanctions, penalties, fees, and surcharges. Most people think that the police have an obligation (“duty”) to protect the citizens in the jurisdictions they serve. Many police forces even have a motto along the lines of “To Protect and Serve.” The unfortunate reality is that the police are under no obligation to protect you. The police do not even have an obligation to respond to your call for help.
The most well-known case on this topic is Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1, D.C. Ct. of Ap. 1981). In short, four women lived in a boarding house. One lived on the 2nd floor with her 4 year old daughter, and two lived on the third floor. Two men broke into the house and proceeded to assault and rape the woman on the second floor. The women on the third floor, hearing the screaming and cries from the floor below, called the police and were assured help was on the way, only to watch the police drive by the house, knock on the door and leave when no one answered. The two women on the third floor then called the police (again) and were assured (again) that help was on the way. The police never came, but thinking the police might be in the house, the two women called out the the third woman being assaulted. This resulted in the two assailants becoming aware of the other women in the house. The assailants proceeded to kidnap the three adult women at knife point and rape and beat them for the next 14 hours.
The three women sued the District of Columbia based on numerous failures of the police department in this event, but their case was dismissed at the trial court level. The Supreme Court of the United States explained that it is a “fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.”
If the police have no duty or obligation to protect citizens, what is their purpose?