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Are Citizen’s Arrests Real? We Tackled a Biker Blowing Through a Stop Sign to Find Out

Welcome to the Madison Miss or More, where we test various campus myths, life hacks, rumors, and more. We then let you know if it’s a Miss (false) or a More (true).

A common trope in TV shows and movies are citizen arrests, where a civilian witnesses a crime and then detains the perpetrator. We wanted to see if this was a real thing or just something used in entertainment.

We first reached out to a professor here at UW-Madison in the Law Department. He let us know that they are, in fact, legal! But he also went on a big rant about how we shouldn’t do it and how it can easily backfire, blah, blah, blah. What kind of journalists would we be if we didn’t test the validity of his claims? So, we set out to test it in the field.

We then brainstormed what crimes we could try to stop. Unfortunately, any major crimes like burglary or homicide are too rare on campus. But then the obvious answer came to us. Bicyclists are enemy #1 on campus. They think they can break any law and get away with it. I still have flashbacks to my freshman year when I was crossing the intersection at Babcock and Linden when a careless bicyclist plowed through the stop sign. We were parallel to each other, but still! We decided to return to the scene of my trauma.

Next, we stopped at Babcock Hall to fuel up for our excursion. We then crossed the street and set up camp outside Russell Laboratories. There, we waited for our criminal. Then finally, we spotted him. He was heading north on Babcock when he slowed down at the stop sign. We first thought he was going to do a full-stop, but after glancing both ways, he started pedaling again and crossed the intersection.

I knew this was my moment. I sprinted across the street and tackled him off his bike. My partner quickly picked up his bike, so the criminal couldn’t make his escape. He sat up, confused, and looked at me and my fellow journalist. Then he started screaming at us. The audacity! I then announced that he was under citizen’s arrest. He shut up for a moment and looked at us, again confused. “For what!?! What are you talking about?!?” he screamed at us. I eloquently explained that he had violated Wisconsin State Law chapter 346, subchapter 7, section 46. He then resumed yelling at us about how he doesn’t know what that means and that I had hurt him. He tried to get up, but I tackled him again and pinned him down. My partner then called 911 while I read the criminal his Miranda Rights.

A couple police officers showed up finally, but instead of congratulating us, they told me to let the criminal up. The officers seperated us and talked to us to figure out what was happening. I explained to the officer that we were stopping a criminal and performed a citizen’s arrest. But then the officer told us not to do that and that we didn’t know what we were doing. The officers discussed with each other and then, get this: the officers arrested us! They told us that we committed assault and battery, robbery, damage to property, and unlawful detainment. I tried explaining that we performed a citizen’s arrest, which we were legally allowed to do. But the officers weren’t having it and told us we “overreacted” and we gave the biker a “concussion.”

Despite what that law professor told us, we were able to witness firsthand that citizen’s arrests are not real! We rate this as a Miss.


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