NYC Supreme Court: Police have “no special duty” to protect individuals

This isn’t the first time that a court has ruled this way, just the most recent. The NY Supreme Court has dismissed a lawsuit by a man who sued the NYPD for not helping him as he was stabbed repeatedly by an attacker in a New York subway.

A man who was brutally stabbed by Brooklyn subway slasher Maksim Gelman two years ago had his negligence case against the city dismissed in court yesterday, despite the fact that two transit officers had locked themselves in a motorman’s car only a few feet from him at the time of the attack.

Gelman stabbed Joseph Lozito in the face, neck, hands and head on an uptown 3 train in February 2011, after fatally stabbing four people and injuring three others in a 28-hour period. Lozito, a father of two and an avid martial arts fan, was able to tackle Gelman and hold him down, and Gelman was eventually arrested by the transit officers. Lozito sued the city, arguing that the police officers had locked themselves in the conductor’s car and failed to come to his aid in time.

NYC’s claim in moving for dismissal was that the NYPD had no “special duty” to help or protect Lozito. What they are saying is that while they hold themselves out as being a force that “protects” society – NYC and her citizens as a whole, in this case – they have no specific duty to protect any particular individual. This isn’t the first time police forces have made such a claim nor that courts have upheld that. I wrote, myself, about a US Supreme Court case back in 2005, Castle Rock v. Gonzales, wherein the Court ruled that there is no constitutional obligation for a police force to provide protection to specific citizens. In that case, a woman’s estranged husband was under a restraining order to stay away from the woman and their 3 small daughters. The man apparently picked the kids up from school and claimed, when contacted by Ms. Gonzales, that he was taking the girls to an amusement park. Gonzales immediately called police who, it appears, did little to nothing. The husband was killed several hours later in a gunfight with police. The 3 girls’ bodies were found in his car.

At the time of the ruling, I wrote that this was as clear a signal as the Court could provide that the defense of your life and that of your loved ones is your responsibility. The police are there to catch and detain people who have already committed the crime. Prevention of crime is merely a side-effect of their happenstance presence. If they happen to be there and the crooks see them, they might decide to not commit a crime, or if the police happen to be there and see an assault in progress they might choose to engage and disrupt the attack. There are several other cases – Warren v. District of Columbia comes to mind – where this concept that the police are not there to protect you from a crime being committed has been confirmed by the courts. The NY Supreme Court ruling is merely the latest example.

This is the argument that needs to be constantly raised to those who would claim that we should not be allowed to arm ourselves in our defense and who use the police as the justification for that argument. They are not correct that the police are a substitute for your personal responsibility to provide for your defense and that of your family.