jurisdictions have held similarly:
". . . 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. App.181)
In this case three rape victims sued the city and its police
department under the following facts: Two of the victims were upstairs
when they heard the other being attacked by men who had broken in
downstairs. Half an hour having passed and their roommate's screams
having ceased, they assumed the police must have arrived in response to
their repeated phone calls. In fact their calls had somehow been lost
in the shuffle while the roommate was being beaten into silent acquiescence. So when the roommates went downstairs to see to her, as
the court's opinion graphically describes it, "For the next fourteen
hours the women were held captive, raped, robbed, beaten, forced to
commit sexual acts upon each other, and made to submit to the sexual
demands" of their attackers.
Having set out these facts, the court promptly exonerated the
District of Columbia and its police, as was clearly required by the 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.
As the phrase "fundamental principle of American law" suggests,
this holding is not some legal aberration unique to the District of
Columbia. It is universal, being enuciated by formal statute as well as
judicial decision in many states. Nor is it simply a cynical ploy
for government to avoid just liability. The proposition that
individuals must be responsible for their own immediate safety, with
police providing only an auxiliary general deterrent, is inherent in a
high crime society. Consider the matter just in terms of the number of
New York City women who each year seek police help, reporting threats
by ex-husbands, ex-boyfriends etc.: to bodyguard just those women would
exhaust the resources of the nation's largest police department,
leaving no officers available for street patrol, traffic control, crime
detection and apprehension of perpetrators, responding to emergency
calls etc., etc. Given what New York courts have called "the
crushing nature of the burden", the police cannot be made
responsible for protecting the individual citizen. Providing such
protection is up to the individual who is threatened; it is not the
function of the police.
For more cases and discussion on the limits of government
responsibility to protect citizens see the court decision discussed in
"Police Have No Duty To
Protect Individuals" by Peter Kasler and the book
Dial 911 and Die by Richard W. Stevens. In summary, governments have
no obligation to protect you and no recovery of damages is possible when governments fail to
protect you. Most importantly, if you lose your life, no amount of damages
could make that up to you.
Prof. Leddy, formerly a N.Y. officer, cites personal experience:
The ability of the state to protect us from personal violence
is limited by resources and personnel shortages [in
addition to which] the state is usually unable to know
that we need protection until it is too late. By the time
that the police can be notified and then arrive at the
scene the violent criminal has ample opportunity to do
serious harm. I once waited 20 minutes for the New York
City Police to respond to an "officer needs assistance"
call which has their highest priority. On the other hand,
a gun provides immediate protection. Even where the police
are prompt and efficient, the gun is speedier.
Reference: Silver and Kates, "Handgun Ownership, Self-defense and the
Independence of Women in a Violent, Sexist Society" in RESTRICTING HANDGUNS at 144-7.