Police serve many critical community functions other than law enforcement: crowd control, responding to accidents and other emergencies, big and small, and providing public safety assistance in the aftermath of natural or man-made catastrophes, to name just a few. These functions are described generally as “community caretaking.” When performed reasonably and in limited circumstances, a police officer engaged in community caretaking will be immune to claims of constitutional violation.
In Caniglia v. Strom, No. 19-1764 (1st Cir. March 13, 2020), the First Circuit held that community caretaker immunity extends to police officers performing community caretaker functions on private property. In this case, police had entered a home, removed a person thought to be a danger to himself or another, and seized his firearms. They had been called to the home by a woman who had spent the night at a hotel after a domestic dispute, during which her husband had pulled out one of his guns and told her to shoot him. She was unable to reach the husband by phone the next day and told the police that she feared that he had committed suicide. The police spoke to the husband and convinced him to go to the hospital for evaluation. They then entered the home and confiscated the weapons, directed to their location by the wife.
Community caretaker immunity provides police officers with discretion to act reasonably when circumstances require immediate attention in non-investigatory settings. In a footnote, the Court explained the difference between community caretaker immunity and other immunities that the law recognizes for exigent circumstances and emergency aid. While noting that it was not drawing “crisp” distinctions among these circumstances, the Court stated that community caretaker immunity requires neither an immediate or imminent need for action nor the least intrusive response.
The opinion was written by Senior Judge Bruce M. Selya. The opinion’s SAT words include “salmagundi,” “tamisage,” “asseverational,” “pellucid,” “curtilage,” “apocryphal,” “conduces,” “supererogatory,” “weal,” “centripetal,” “carapace,” “encincture,” and “peradventure.” You earn a gold star if you know them all. And then near the end, we are provided with this lovely conclusion: “This claim consists of more cry than wool.” You earn extra credit if you know the derivation of that expression.