THE POWER OF ONE CITIZEN TO ARREST another holds great mystique. Our modern era's awareness of this power received a big boost in the well-known "Citizen's Arrest" episode of The Andy Griffith Show, first broadcast in the 1963-64 television season. In the show, Deputy Fife hassles citizen Gomer Pyle about jay walking, then performs a clearly illegal U-turn with his police vehicle, only to be followed by a shouting Pyle, hollering his now-famous "City-son's Arr-ay-ist! City-son's Arr-ay-ist!"

Often after conflict, we think, "damn, if only I'd told them off!" Why not take things one step further and make a citizen's arrest? Forget about the snappy put-downs, just take their ass all the way down with this simple, legal, and highly effective procedure. Hell, I've done it. When two reprobates harassed me with their bogus magazine sales pitch, I didn't stand around and moan. I arrested the little fuckers. Sure, they came back and tried to detach my retinas, but they (the reprobates, not my retinas) ultimately went away, and look who's in the driver's seat now!

Lucky citizens of some other states have the benefit of clearly written laws, spelling out their citizens' arrest powers. In California, for example, once you choose a target, you just say the magic words. You can even nail them again if they resist. It's not quite so easy here in Seattle, where the lack of a local statute leaves you in a much grayer area. But, according to Seattle Police Department Media Relations Officer Pam MCammon, that doesn't mean you need to back away from putting the screws to an obvious violator. "There is indeed such a thing as a citizen's arrest," she says. "Although there is no actual city statute, it's basically the common law. [Note: Common law is a body of procedures and rules that the courts say have the effect of law, even without specific statutes to back them up.] If a person witnesses another doing something illegal and holds that person, that's a citizen's arrest. These happen quite rarely." Could it be that they happen so rarely because nobody knows they exist? Wouldn't these arrests happen with much greater frequency if we all realized that we really, truly can put some bastard away?

Before you decide to drop this powerful hammer, though, you need to know a few things. Let's assume you see a felony. The good news is that the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) says you don't have to wait for the law to arrive, you can make the arrest yourself! Even more exciting, with a felony, you don't even have to see the crime happen, you just have to have probable cause that the person you're arresting did it! Sure, it'd help to know how a felony is different from a misdemeanor, and it'd probably be a good idea to know just what constitutes probable cause. But don't be scared off by eggheads who'll tell you to leave it to the experts. Just watch a few hours of Court TV, get out there, and start making a difference.

Washington's Criminal Practice and Procedure (CPP) -- basically our legal rulebook -- explains that citizens' arrests for misdemeanors (the kind of lawlessness you are most likely to come across) are governed in common law by the notion of "breach of peace." From CPP: "A breach of peace ordinarily involves some actual or potential disturbance of public order and tranquillity, or conduct which tends to provoke or incite others to violence." Here's where your liberal interpretation of a "potential disturbance of public order and tranquillity" can really open up some doors, greatly expanding your personal law enforcement opportunities. For example, the Blue Angels clearly disturb public order and tranquillity. The Angels' racket results in closed freeways, agitated citizens, freaked-out animals, and frightened children. Why not arrest the pilots?

Sure, when it comes to actually making the arrest, the nuts and bolts are notoriously unclear. While the SPD's MCammon states, "If you see someone do something wrong, you can hold them, detain them, and hand them immediately over to police officers," her statements are peppered with repeated reminders about the danger of attempting to detain private citizens -- like getting beaten up or even arrested yourself. CPP contains warnings as well, stating that "A private citizen who illegally arrests or detains another individual may be liable for the civil tort of false imprisonment." The document does point out an invaluable loophole, however: If the target of your arrest surrenders his or her freedom voluntarily in order to clear themselves of suspicion, "then there is no imprisonment."

So much of today's focus on mediation and conflict resolution ultimately fosters a powerless and hand-wringing populous. With wise and prudent utilization of our legal power to arrest each other, we can all live in a world where we are truly held accountable for our individual actions.

1. Select the proper outfit.To steer clear of any possible accusations that you are trying to impersonate a police officer during your citizen's arrest, wear bright, colorful, and loose-fitting trousers, a snug and ribbed pullover, neon velour socks, a white scarf, and a big-billed yellow sun hat. This will clearly identify you as a private, non-police citizen.

2. Decide if you want to arrest for a misdemeanor or a felony.If you are taking someone down for a felony, Washington's Criminal Practice and Procedure says you don't have to see 'em do it, you just have to have probable cause. That means you must have "trustworthy information" that would lead just about anybody to the conclusion that the felony has or is being committed by your suspect. Have a misdemeanor on your hands? Then you best witness the act. Remember that misdemeanor offenses must constitute a "breach of peace," which means there must be some actual or threatened disturbance of public order. Weigh this issue carefully before you make your arrest.

3. Find a criminal.Now it's time to consider possible candidates. You can select a suspect and follow them around all day to see if they commit any felonies or misdemeanors, or you can choose an area where crimes occur with great frequency (like Pioneer Square or City Hall), and hang around until you see a suitable offense. Remember, if it's a misdemeanor, it can be an actual or potential "disturbance of public order"!

4. Make the arrest.When you have found the ideal criminal act (and after you've called the police), approach with firmness and kindness, the same way child-psychology superstar Rudolf Dreikurs suggests adults approach misbehaving children. You don't have to say anything in particular, just convey to your suspect as gently as possible that you are placing them under a citizen's arrest. Remember to tell them why, because they have rights too!

5. Detain them (legally!).Here's where it can get messy. A mistake might get you arrested, sued, or even beaten up. The SPD's Officer MCammon tells it like it is: "You are very much held responsible and liable for what you detain someone for, and how you detain them. If you do something wrong, you can be in big trouble. If the person you're trying to detain decides to beat you up, then you're S.O.L." CPP says that as long as your suspect stays with you of their own volition, they can't come back and pin some overblown false imprisonment rap on you, so be persuasive! After you've told them they are under arrest, try to convince them to stay until the cops show up. A big smile or some tasty candy bars might help in this situation. Establish a rapport by asking them about their family or their favorite music. But remember, if they balk, hands off! It's like fishing: If you lose one, just throw the line back in and try again!

The Stranger's List of 20 Citizens in Need of Arr-ay-ist

1. Mariner Chairman/CEO John Ellis

2. Anyone with a bumper sticker that reads "Washington State Native"

3. City Attorney Mark Sidran

4. Tire guy Les Schwab (Be careful, he's probably got guns!)

5. Adriene Sere, editor of the zine Said It ("a pro-equality, pro-multiplicity, pro-abundance, pro-responsibility, pro-animal, pro-justice, pro-love and laughter feminist publication")

6. City Councilwoman Margaret Pageler

7. Mattress maven Sonny Kobe Cook

8. Seattle Times columnist Jean Godden's hairdresser

9. Terrorist Everett True

10. The Goddess Kring

11. The workers at Noah's Bagels who yell "hot bagels!!!" when a new batch comes out of the oven

12. Mimes who drive SUVs while talking on cell phones

13. Anyone who flosses in public

14. Kleptron 2000

15. SPD Police Chief Norm Stamper

16. The entire cast of Almost Live (except Lauren Weedman)

17. All the members of the Dudley Manlove Quartet

18. KNDD (The End) radio host Andy Savage

19. Dagnatchew at QFC, the slowest checker who ever lived

20. Street kids with puppies

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