Arrests: What Are They Good For?
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
Even police critics often assume that arrests are essential to policing. This Article challenges that assumption and argues that arrests should be curtailed. Arrests harm individuals, families, and communities. Given their costs, arrests should be used only when they serve an important state interest. Yet, arrests often happen even when no such interest exists. In United States, constitutional law acts as the primary legal constraint on arrests. But it does not ensure that the state has a reason to make an arrest – as opposed to starting the criminal process in another way. Although the police carry out millions of arrests to start the criminal process, to maintain order, to collect evidence, and to deter crime, arrests are usually unnecessary for these purposes. In most cases, reasonable, less intrusive, alternative means exist for achieving these ends, even for some serious crimes. Because the state can achieve its law enforcement objectives without so many arrests, police departments should conduct far fewer arrests than they currently do, and states should restrict the statutory authority to arrest accordingly. Though there are risks to reducing arrests, those risks are less problematic than continuing this form of widespread and unnecessary state coercion.