Some Boston firefighters seem to have found themselves in hot water after being caught on a cellphone video. A passerby caught an altercation between Boston firefighters and a civilian who allegedly had stolen a firefighter’s helmet. As the video below shows, the media seems to be playing this matter up as an example of unnecessary brutality and aggressiveness on the part of the firefighters. But what is the law?
Firefighters have the same power to arrest someone for committing a crime as anyone else, essentially power to make a citizen’s arrest. Any person has the lawful right to arrest someone who has committed a misdemeanor in their presence. In addition, a citizen can arrest someone if they have probable cause to believe the person has committed a felony.
Most states use a dollar amount to separate theft crimes into either felonies or misdemeanors, with $500 being the most common threshold for a crime to become a felony. In Massachusetts the dollar limit is $250.
In this case, if the helmet was worth more than $250 (which most new leather helmets are), and the firefighters had probable cause, then the firefighters were lawfully apprehending a felon. Even if the larceny was for less than $250, they still had the legal right to arrest the perpetrator if the theft occurred in their presence.
As for the use of force, a citizen has the right to use reasonable force to apprehend and detain a person they have a lawful right to arrest. After watching the video – this is not even be a close case. The media should be ashamed of themselves for trying to make a sensational story out of it. Arrests are ugly business – as anyone who watches COPs can attest.
It does go to show that we all need to assume we are on video when ever we are in public!!!!