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Can You Sue The Police For Not Coming When Called?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

There's an intruder in your house. Your ex-husband just told you he's coming to kill you. You've been beaten repeatedly by your father. Who can you call to protect you?

The police! Well, not really. You can try calling the police. Whether they'll come to help you or not is another matter. 

Police Departments Get Hundreds of Thousands of Calls

The National Emergency Number Association estimates that an estimated 657,000 calls are made to 911 every day. If you've ever called for police officers after a car accident, you probably know it can take forever for law enforcement officers to arrive. 

Sometimes, they don't even show up.

Liability For Police Officers Not Showing Up

If the police don't show up to a minor car crash, that's fine and dandy. But what if the police didn't show up, and your ex-boyfriend shot you in the head?

Can your loved ones sue police for not showing up to protect you? Do you have civil rights or constitutional rights to receive help?

There Is No "Duty to Protect"

Sadly, the answer is no.

Courts have repeatedly ruled that police and the government in general have no duty to protect you from harm. State laws vary, but no federal laws force the police to show up and help you.

In some cases, you may be able to pursue a civil lawsuit. You could seek damages from other people involved in the case, such as the person who breaks into your house or crashes into your car. You can talk to a personal injury lawyer if it involves an accident or a civil rights lawyer if you believe there is police misconduct. If it involves criminal charges, you'll need a criminal law attorney.

Warren v. District of Columbia

In Warren v. District of Columbia, two women called the police after hearing intruders attack another woman in their home. The police assured them that help was on the way. Police never showed up. 

The two women, hearing silence, thought police had arrived and went downstairs to help their friend. The intruders were still there, and all three women were repeatedly raped and assaulted for hours.

In siding with the government, the court stated that it is a "fundamental principle that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any particular individual citizen."

Deshaney v. Winnebago County Social Services Department

In Deshaney v. Winnnebago CTY. Soc. Servs. Dept., plaintiff was repeatedly beaten and abused by his father to the point that he suffered permanent brain damage. The county department of social services knew about the father's frequent abuse but did not take steps to remove the boy from his home and protect him from the father.

The Supreme Court ruled that even though the government knew about the harm the boy faced, there was no "special relationship" that would impose a duty to protect.

Taking Individual Officers to Court

Since the police have no duty to protect you, you have no claim against them for failing to show up when you call. However, even if you can't sue the police for your injury, you may be able to sue your attacker in civil court. An experienced litigation attorney will be able to help.

If there is probable cause, you may be able to bring a criminal or civil suit against individual officers. Crimes like the use of force, false arrest, police brutality, wrongful death, and other police criminal cases may be able to win punitive damages.

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