Say that a police officer walks down an alleyway and very clearly sees a crime being committed; say a mugging or a rape. Is the officer legally obligated to try to stop the crime? By “legally required”, I mean that they could be charged with a crime if they do not intervene.

Also, would there be extenuating circumstances based on the likelihood of being able to stop it? For instance, would a group of three armed police officers be required to stop a single unarmed criminal? Would a single unarmed officer not be legally required to stop twenty armed criminals?

This is a purely hypothetical question, not one I am facing.

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    Define "legally required." Do you mean you can sue them if they don't intervene? Do you mean they'd be charged with a crime if they don't intervene? Do you mean they'd be fired for cause if they don't intervene?
    – cpast
    Oct 24, 2017 at 21:48
  • @cpast Thanks for asking for clarification. I mean charged with a crime. I’ve edited the question to clarify. Oct 25, 2017 at 20:54

2 Answers 2


No. Police aren't even required to protect people.

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    If you read the linked article, no crime had happened (yet) at the moment when the police didn't act. It would be reasonable to say that a crime would be likely to happen, but it hadn't happened yet. So this doesn't answer the question.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 24, 2017 at 20:26
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    @gnasher729 breaching the court order was a crime (contempt of court) and it had happened
    – Dale M
    Oct 24, 2017 at 21:10
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    Sam is correct on the general rule of law. The leading precedent is Castle Rock v. Gonzales, 545 U.S. 748 (2005). scholar.google.com/… The law is somewhat different when people are put into a controlled situations by authorities (e.g. the duty of prison guards to prisoners who are being criminally victimized).
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 25, 2017 at 5:26

This is more complicated because one of the mandates of US police is as follows:

Order maintenance. This is the broad mandate to keep the peace or otherwise prevent behaviors which might disturb others. This can deal with things ranging from a barking dog to a fist-fight. By way of description, Cole and Smith note that police are usually called-on to "handle" these situations with discretion, rather than deal with them as strict violations of law, though of course their authority to deal with these situations are based in violations of law.

Since a crime would be considered behavior which might disturb others, then it could be argued that they are mandated to do such.

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    There is no privately enforceable duty of a law enforcement officer to maintain order. It might be a "goal" of law enforcement in general, but it is not enforceable in any specific case.
    – ohwilleke
    Nov 28, 2017 at 3:35
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    I agree with @ohwilleke . As a matter of fact there is very rare a case where you can force a police officer to not harm people, let alone help them
    – Alex Doe
    Feb 12, 2019 at 5:29

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