New Law Gives Off-Duty Officers Arrest Authority Outside Their Jurisdictions

by State Representative Peggy Krusick

Three gunshots, a suspect running from a shop across the street and a victim lying on the sidewalk.

That’s what off-duty Brookfield Assistant Police Chief Dean Collins heard and witnessed on a Saturday morning in 2004 as he stepped out of his car in the parking lot of a Milwaukee pharmacy. (Assistant Chief Collins retired from the Milwaukee Police Department as an Inspector of Police in 2002 after 32 years of service.)

Dean pursued the fleeing suspect down several alleys and made repeated commands to stop, but the gunman had a sufficient lead and was able to escape in a waiting car driven by an accomplice.

During his pursuit, Dean seriously contemplated shooting the armed felon but thought better of it, because he knew state law offered no protections to off-duty officers who apprehend or arrest suspects outside their jurisdiction. In such cases, a civil lawsuit would have to be defended by an officer personally, not by their employing agency. Had he fired his weapon to subdue the fleeing and dangerous shooter, Dean would have been placing his family’s current and future financial security in jeopardy. That was a risk he did not want to take, nor should he have had to.

Tragically, the shooting victim died on the sidewalk that day, leaving behind a wife of 20 years. To make matters worse, it was his last day working a part-time job at the shop.

Soon after the horrible events of this day, Dean and Greendale Police Chief Rob Dams began working with me, Representatives Mark Gundrum and Jeff Stone, Senators Mary Lazich and Dave Zien, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and others to craft legislation to fix this glaring weakness in state law. The legislation we wrote was modeled after a very successful law many of us worked on in the early 1990s that allows suburban police officers within Milwaukee County to arrest suspects anywhere in the county.

After several work group meetings, we introduced a bill that was quickly passed by both houses and signed by the Governor. We greatly appreciate the input provided by the WPPA throughout this process.

Under the new state law (2005 Act 414), off-duty police officers are authorized to arrest suspects or provide assistance outside their jurisdiction in emergency situations that pose a significant threat to life or of bodily harm. Off-duty officers may exercise this new authority outside their jurisdiction if:

  • The officer is taking action that he or she would be authorized to take under the same circumstances in the officer’s territorial jurisdiction;
  • The officer’s supervising agency has adopted written policies authorizing off-duty officers to make arrests or provide aid or assistance outside of the agency’s territorial jurisdiction; and
  • The officer’s action is in compliance with the agency’s written policies.
  • The Act requires a supervising agency that adopts written policies to, at a minimum, address the following protocol:
  • Reasonable responses to an emergency situation that poses a significant threat to life or of bodily harm.
  • Arrests made in response to an emergency situation that pose a significant threat to life or of bodily harm.
  • Notification of and cooperation with a law enforcement agency of another jurisdiction regarding arrests made and other actions taken in the other jurisdiction.

Off-duty police officers acting under this authority are also provided protections in case of injury or lawsuits. More specifically, for purposes of civil and criminal liability, an off-duty police officer acting outside the officer’s jurisdiction as authorized under the Act is considered to be acting in an official capacity as an officer of the state, state employee, or agent of the state. Under such circumstances, off-duty police officers would also be eligible for worker’s compensation and duty disability benefits.

Quite simply, police officers should be allowed to do the job they were trained to do wherever and whenever, without the fear of being sued or costly medical bills. Thanks to the efforts of many individuals and groups from Wisconsin’s law enforcement community, state law now provides this authority.

I’d appreciate hearing from law enforcement agencies that have adopted and implemented an off-duty arrest policy as provided under Act 414 or have an interest in doing so. Please feel free to contact me at the State Capitol at 1-888-529-0007 or by e-mail at Rep.Krusick@legis.wisconsin.gov.

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