Given that we’re raising this question on a blog dedicated to self-defense, you can probably guess what my answer is. Yes, every person should study some form of self defense – even if you carry a gun, even if the police station is next door, even if you are as big as the Hulk.

But, the question at hand involves the police’s ability and duty to protect you from violence. Can they? Will they? Do they have to?

Can the police help you if you are being violently attacked:

The answer is yes, as long as they are standing right there when the attack happens. I don’t know about you, but I don’t travel with a police escort 24 hours a day.

There’s 911 right? Sure. And response time to 911, when it works, is measured in minutes – sometimes 15 minutes or more. Imagine someone attacking you ferociously for 15 seconds do you think you could hold that person off for 14 3/4 minutes. Sometimes you call 911 and it doesn’t work at all – happened to me. Of course calling 911 presupposes that an attacker is going to give you an opportunity to dial and then speak to the operator.

Will they?

First, let me say that I count a number of police officers from various jurisdictions among my friends. They are all, without exception dedicated professionals who would not ever fail to protect a citizen in danger if they could help it. But that’s not the issue.

Have there been cases where police refused to act or, for some reason, didn’t act to protect someone? Yes. Example: a person inside your house with a gun could hold the police off for a long time.

The police have to protect me from crime, right?

Nope.

Legally, the police are not required to protect you at all. If they fail to protect you, you can’t sue them. Here are some relevant decisions and statues:

“….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.”–DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (109 S.Ct. 998, 103 L. Ed. 2d 249 (1989)

“What makes the City’s position particularly difficult to understand is that, in conformity to the dictates of the law, Linda did not carry any weapon for self-defense. Thus, by a rather bitter irony she was required to rely for protection on the City of New York which now denies all responsibility to her.” –Judge Kenneth Keating, in the sole dissenting opinion in the Linda Riss case (Riss v. City of New York, 240 N.E.2d 860 (N.Y. 1968)

“The Court, however, does not agree that defendants owed a specific legal duty to plaintiffs with respect to the allegations made in the amended complaint for the reason that the District of Columbia appears to follow the well established rule that official police personnel and the government employing them are not generally liable to victims of criminal acts for failure to provide adequate police protection……. This uniformly accepted rule rests upon the 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.”–Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981)

“Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for failure to establish a police department or otherwise to provide police protection service or, if police protection service is provided, for failure to provide sufficient police protection service.”
–California Government Code, Section 845

In California, your locality isn’t even required by law to have a police force.

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