Have Your Badge Podcast – Episode 15 City Cop

Today on the show we talk about how eventually everything washes out and checking on steamy cars in closed parks. A big thank you to our guest for coming on the show this week. 

An interview podcast by very nature relies on having guests come on the show. If you enjoy the show and work in an area related to law enforcement send me an email at haveyourbadge@gmail.com so we can talk about doing an interview. 

On to the meat and potatoes of this episode write up. Near the end of the show we talk about our guest checking on certain individuals parked in closed places either engaged in illegal activities or other acts. I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about a little discussed part of police work which is the “community care-taker” doctrine.

In the specific story of the show the officer had a direct reason to be checking these parks for occupied vehicles because the parks are closed; signs are posted saying the hours of the park and officers check the parking lots to make sure the posted rules are followed. In instances where an area does not have clearly posted rules officers operate under the community caretaker doctrine when checking cars or areas where individuals might be in trouble.

A specific instance from the Montana Supreme Court which is oft cited for it’s clear outline of the doctrine in relation to drunk driving cases gives us a good idea of how it works.

“The defendant had been asleep with the headlights off and the engine running. A police officer, concerned for the person’s safety, knocked on the door and, when the driver did not wake up, opened the door. At this point, the officer realized that the defendant was intoxicated. The Montana Supreme Court found that the police officer’s intrusion into the car was lawful.” (Source)

So an officer checks on an individual that may be in danger or is in an odd area. Eventually the officer checking on said vehicle leads to a driving under the influence of alcohol investigation.

There are some pretty clear guidelines for officers using the community care-taker doctrine.

  • First, there must be objective, specific, and articulable facts that lead an experienced officer to believe that a citizen might be in need of help or in danger.
  • Second, if the citizen is in need of assistance, the officer may take appropriate action to mitigate the danger or render assistance to the citizen.
  • Third, once the officer is assured that the peril is no longer present, any actions beyond that constitute a seizure subject to Fourth Amendment review.

Some states have established stricter guidelines for the doctrine however these three rules give a pretty good outline of the rule. Keep in mind that the officer is not locked into a path when contact is made. If during the course of checking on an individuals welfare the officer observes illegal or suspicious activity then the path can change and the officer will follow through on investigating that activity.

I hope this is helpful in explaining one of the base tenets of community policing to those who are unfamiliar with the doctrine.

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Thank you,