Police Skills Police Test Study Guide

Rules Police Officers Must Follow When Making an Arrest.

May 26th, 2021
rules police officers must follow when making an arrest

Background Context

Arresting a member of the public is no small thing.

Police officers are, at that moment, taking away the freedom that that person is otherwise entitled to. As such, there are clear rules police officers must follow to make an arrest; many of which we discuss here.

Remember, to take liberty from another citizen means that you – as a law enforcement officer – must have a clear, defined, and legal reason to conduct that arrest. You cannot arrest any member of the public for any reason you choose. Police officers do not have that power and should not assume to have that power, either.

Not all US police departments follow the same rules. This depends on many factors, including:

  • The need to ensure that police officers are adequately protected during the arrest.
  • To assist police officers documenting the arrest.
  • To ensure that police officers follow a process that ensures no damage is done to undermine the criminal case in question.

Here, we attempt to piece together the major rules police officers must follow when making an arrest. Again, police departments may have slight variations and, if you are hoping to join a specific police department, you are advised to contact that department to learn more about the standard arrest procedure.

As prospective law enforcement officers, it is incumbent upon you to learn the correct procedure – and to enact this procedure safely and in accordance with the law, both state and federal.

Conditions that Warrant an Arrest

For police officers to conduct an arrest against a member of the public, one of the following conditions must clearly have been met:

  • That the police officer witnessed a crime taking place.
  • That an arrest warrant has been issued by a judicial authority.
  • That the police officer believes that probable cause has been met; in other words, that the suspect is likely to have been the cause of the crime and so can be arrested.

Officers must always apply the principle of evidence-first.

Officers cannot conduct an arrest based on flimsy evidence or even if the person or people they are speaking to are being rude. Officers must rise above the temperature of the situation and confidently, but calmly evaluate what has happened, what evidence currently exists, and who is most likely to have committed the crime.

Police officers who knowingly make a false arrest have themselves committed a crime.

Relevance to the Oral Board Exam

You may be asked about this during the oral board exam of the police test.

There have been many questions where candidates are presented with a situation where a fellow officer has made a false arrest in your presence. You are then asked to comment on what the appropriate course of action should be.

Later, we will answer this question in more detail. For now, though, try to establish the kind of answer you would provide the oral board panel.

Procedures when Conducting the Arrest

An arrest is considered to have taken place when the suspect in question has reasonable belief that they are unfree to leave; that they may be detained on the grounds that they have committed a crime. Note, again, that the precise rules for conducting an arrest can vary (see above).

Depending on the situation, police officers may use handcuffs – although this is not a legal requirement. However, handcuffs are recommended to protect both the suspect and the police officer. In some cases, suspects may not be in full control of their mental faculties – particularly if they have taken drugs. Similarly, the arrestee may be placed in a police cruiser for the precisely the same reasons.

Miranda rights – that is to say, the rights that arrestees have (such as the right to remain silent) are not obliged to be read at the time of the arrest. That said, these rights must be read to suspects when an interrogation is about to take place. Arrestees are not obliged to answer the questions of police officers, though the latter may try to employ techniques to encourage suspects to talk.

Note that conducting an arrest must apply a proportionate use of force. This relates back to the force continuum, which we previously discussed. The US constitution protects the rights of those about to be arrested, that excessive force cannot be used, nor methods deemed cruel and/or inappropriate. Arrests must be conducted fairly, not least due to the uphold the constitutional principle of “innocent until proven guilty”. Police officers are warranted to apply force, but it must be the minimum applicable, justifiable use of force to ensure the arrest takes place. These are clear rules that police officers must follow when making an arrest.

On the opposite side of the coin, the suspect may feel that they have been falsely arrested. Often, this can turn out to be true – and, in some cases, the suspect can launch legal action against the arrest. They can also challenge the arrest in other legal ways, too. However, the suspect must comply with the original arrest even if that arrest turns out to be false. Arrestees are not permitted to resist arrest, no matter how innocent they feel they are.

Oral Board Question

Earlier, we discussed how police officer arrest procedures can appear during the oral board exam.

We asked you to consider a question: about what you would do if, as an officer, you were in the presence of another police officer who was, in your eyes, about to conduct a false arrest.

To answer this question, here are the points to consider:

  • You should intervene and persuade the police officer not to conduct the arrest.
  • If the police officer refuses, he is violating his obligation. You should report the matter to your supervisor, providing clear evidence of the false arrest.
  • Note that the same principle applies if the colleague officer applies excessive use of force.

Even if this officer is your friend, you must act in accordance with the law. And as a police officer, it is incumbent upon you to uphold the law that you are sworn to defend.


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