Citizen’s arrest at work, should you be dismissed for doing this?
Making a citizen’s arrest at work is a situation most people would hope never eventuates. The law around making a citizen’s arrest varies from state to state, and not many people fully understand the legal powers they possess to make an arrest. Can you arrest a co-worker?, yes you can. The laws apply equally to all.
In this article, we’ll share three examples where employees were forced to make a citizen’s arrest at work. But first, let’s take a closer look at the laws around making a citizen’s arrest, either at work or elsewhere. You might be surprised at just how much power the law affords a member of the public to make a citizen’s arrest.
What should employees do in these circumstances?
This topic is becoming more relevent as shoplifting increases. What should employees do in these circumstances? Large retailers generally have a policy of you cannot put a hand on the customers. Fair enough you would say. However are they customer but really thieves taking goods your responsible for. The police have made it known in some cities and towns around Australia unless the taken goods are over a certin value don’t call us. Many employees value their job and cannot just stand by and watch this happen. This is the start of how matters get complicated.
This then leads to should a workplace investigation be conducted? Does a dismissal automatedly follow? No employer wants to be known for having a toxic workplace environment by being heavy handed. But companies have rules and have to comply with laws and also don’t want to be know as a “soft touch” or a unruly workplace.
What is the law around making a citizen’s arrest?
Firstly, it depends which Australian state or territory you are in, as legislation varies across the country. However generally speaking, a citizen’s arrest may be performed when the person making the arrest has a reasonable belief that an offence is being committed or has been committed.
In New South Wales, for instance, section 100 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 affords individuals the right to make a citizen’s arrest. This can be done on a person who is in the act of committing an offence or has just committed an offence. Also, if the person has committed a serious indicatable offense. That is, one punishable by five years or more in prison – and that person hasn’t been tried for that offence yet.
There are, however, other factors that you must consider when making a citizen’s arrest in NSW, like your “duty of care” for the individual you are arresting, amongst other things. This can be particularly complex when you considers it’s a workplace and could effect others as well
In Victoria, section 458 of the Crimes Act 1958 (Victoria) affords the power to make a citizen’s arrest of “any person” that you find is committing “any offence.” You must, however “believe on reasonable grounds” that apprehending the person is necessary for one or more of the following reasons:
- To ensure the offender’s appearance in court
- To preserve public order
- To prevent the continuation or repetition of the offence or the omission of a further offence
- For the safety or welfare of the public or the offender.
Committing the offence
It’s important to understand that you must catch the person committing the offence, and not just simply arrest them on the suspicion of having done so. More information about making a citizen’s arrest in Victoria can be found here, and for the rest of Australia, here.
Can I make a citizen’s arrest at work?
Making a citizen’s arrest should be a last resort, and it’s important to understand the risks involved. For instance, you could face assault charges if you use excessive force. Or be accused of false imprisonment if the person is later released without charge. Not to mention that it could be dangerous if the person turns violent or aggressive. You should consider alternatives like going to a manager, human resources or ringing the police.
So, what if you catch a colleague breaking the law while at work? Performing a citizen’s arrest on your colleague shouldn’t be your first course of action. You should instead report the conduct to your management or human resources department. Breaking the law would constitute serious misconduct, which would see your offending colleague summarily dismissed, not before being reported to the police.
While it isn’t generally advised, making a citizen’s arrest of a member of the public while you are at work is a far more realistic possibility. There are countless cases of employees making a citizen’s arrests at work. Let’s look at three recent examples from across Australia.
Adelaide Chinese restaurant staff attempt citizen’s arrest of freeloading diner
In June this year, staff of a popular Chinese restaurant in the Adelaide CBD chased down and apprehended a man who failed to pay for his meal. The restaurant owner said that the man had come to restaurant with a female date and ordered a three-course meal worth hundreds of dollars.
After sneaking out of the restaurant around 9:30pm, the 33-year-old diner decided to do a runner. Putting a yellow hoodie on, he attempted to escape down Adelaide’s Gouger Street. However, restaurant employees were quick to realize that a “dine and dash” was in process and chased the man down.
The employees – three men and a woman – eventually caught up with the diner. They proceeded to wrestle with him for some time, eventually placing him in a headlock. In the background, a voice can be heard yelling “stop it.” All this was caught on film, which you can view below.
CCTV footage caught him fleeing
Somehow, the freeloading diner managed to break free from the scuffle and run off down the street. CCTV footage later caught him fleeing the scene while removing his hoodie. However, he didn’t get far. Police caught up with the man in the middle of Adelaide’s Chinatown, and arrested him for theft. He was later summoned to appear in court.
The video of the citizens arrest went viral on social media, where comments expressed mixed reactions to the ordeal. “Workers should have every right to stop the man from getting away prior to paying for his meal,” said one. “Should just call the police and send in the footage. This could easily escalate to a fight or stabbing, for what, $100 in food?” said another comment.
NT tackle shop employees make citizen’s arrest of shoplifters
In January 2020, staff of the Top End Tackle World fishing tackle shop in Darwin made a courageous citizen’s arrest of two alleged shoplifters. Employee Harry Sutcliffe-Woelders first noticed something was awry when he spotted two teenage boys acting suspiciously around the store’s most expensive fishing rods. “I was just sitting there doing shirts, and two young fellas come in and had a look around,” Mr Sutcliffe-Woelders told 9News. “They kept picking the rods up and putting them back down.
Then, moments later, the two teenagers picked up two rods worth $1,000 and did the unthinkable. “They ran out the door with them,” said Mr Sutcliffe-Woelders Mr Sutcliffe-Woelders immediately made chase for the alleged shoplifters, following them to a car park where he lost them briefly. The theft was caught on film, which you can view here.[AS2]
However, unbeknownst to the alleged shoplifters, the two rods they had stolen were fitted with alarms that sounded as soon as they exited the shop. The owner of the shop, Shane Compain, who was in the back room at the time of the theft, explained how his employee tracked down the alleged shoplifters. “Harry said he was following the noise,” Mr Compain said. “They were ducking behind cars, and apparently he could just hear the noise, so they ended up dropping the rods and keep on going.”
Caught up with the thieves
As Mr Sutcliffe-Woelders picked up the discarded rods, Mr Compain caught up with the thieves. He then grabbed one of them and pinned him against a wall. Mr Compain was then assisted by members of the public to make a citizen’s arrest of the two shoplifters.
“We stopped and there was probably like twenty people standing around us,” Mr Compain said. “Some random fella just grabbed the other one of them, his wife was there with a newborn just standing there and everyone was like ‘Wow, this is going on.’” The police arrived on the scene not too long after and arrested the alleged shoplifters. The 14 and 17-year-old thieves later appeared in court on two counts of stealing respectively.
Bondi lifeguards make dramatic citizen’s arrest of thieving beachgoers
Being employed as a lifeguard isn’t always just about saving people from drowning in the surf. Sometimes, duty calls for you to make a citizen’s arrest. In 2019, that’s exactly what lifeguards on Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach were called upon to do. The entire ordeal was caught on film as part of the popular TV program Bon Rescue.
It all started when one of the lifeguards was tipped off by a member of the public about a couple – a man and a woman – acting suspiciously on the beach. “Mate, I just had a confirmed scoping of bags by a couple,” said the lifeguard to his colleague via radio. “They’re just straight across the tower, right on the water’s edge.” Through binoculars, the lifeguard then watched as the couple proceeded to snatch the bag of an unknowing beachgoer.
“Should we go and get them?” the lifeguard said to his colleague. Then, the duo made chase for the thieves, who after realising they were being tailed, ran off in different directions. And it wasn’t just the lifeguards who made chase, but also a member of the public, who attempted to accost the male thief.
“Got him – a bloke’s just fronted him,” said the lifeguard over radio.” Mate, they’re having a fight just outside Bondi surf club right now.” The thief, however, managed to fend off his assailant and make his way to the beach carpark. But when he got there, he was quickly subdued and a citizen’s arrest was performed.
“People came from all angles – you had parkies [park rangers], you had lifeguards, you had people from the public,” said the lifeguard, who was seemingly well-educated on the laws around making a citizen’s arrest. “With a citizen’s arrest, you can only use reasonable force,” he said. “If you go further than that, then he can get off Scott free and you can get in some trouble.”
Police arrived on the scene moments later, and the thief was taken into custody.
Conclusion to Can you make a citizen’s arrest at work?
I hope the article has been of some interest to you. Nobody goes to work to engage in these sorts of actions and behaviour. Have you been mistreated by your employer? The employer forcing you to do things that may be unlawful?. Get in touch today, explore your options, your rights. Our team at A Whole New Approach are experts at helping employees understand and fight for their rights. In the last two decades, we’ve handled over 16,000 employee claims in every Australian state.
If you have been unfairly dismissed, or have experienced any other form of mistreatment by your employer, we can help. Call us today on 1800 333 666 for a free, confidential discussion about how we can help you seek redress.