The Welfare Check
Many of us have gone through the heartache of not being able to get a hold of a family member or friend. As a last resort, you may have even called the police. The police have a legal obligation to respond to this call of service, commonly known as a welfare check.
There are certain laws that the police need to follow. There are also certain conditions the police can use, such as exigent circumstances and the totality of the situation, to make a warrantless entry into a residence.
Imagine you live an hour away from your mom. You talk to her every day between 4 and 5 o'clock. It is now 8:30, and your mom has not called you back. You call the police and ask for someone to go to her house and check on your mom; the dispatcher replies with, ''Sure, we can do a welfare check.''
You ask yourself, ''What is a welfare check?'' A welfare check occurs when the police respond to a requested area to check on the safety or well-being of a person. Officers will then report back with their findings. You are relieved to learn that your mom answered the door. She simply misplaced her phone and took a nap.
I Have Not Seen My Neighbor
Next, think about an elderly neighbor you know as Mr. Martin. You routinely see Mr. Martin working in his yard in the summer, and he's always friendly. You are not best friends with him, but recently you have not seen him coming or going, and you know his health is declining. You once again call the police to complete a welfare check.
The police respond and knock on his door. There's no answer. You see officers walking around the house peering through windows and eventually begin to walk back to their cruisers. You walk over and tell the officers what your concerns are and why you made the call. They may ask if you have Mr. Martin's or a family member's phone number or when was the last time you saw him. You tell the officers that you do not have any phone numbers, and again you know that his health is declining. The officers tell you that there is nothing more they can do right now. You promptly respond with, ''Why can't you force entry?''
When Will the Police Enter?
There are only two reasons why the police can enter a house uninvited. The first one is with a warrant, and the second one is called exigent circumstances. A warrant is a petition to the court to be able to enter and search an area, execute an arrest, or to carry out a legal act, which otherwise may be illegal. Exigent circumstances occur when a police officer believes probable cause exists but he does not have time to acquire a warrant because of the pressing circumstances.
In the example of a welfare check with Mr. Martin, the officers will not or cannot obtain a warrant. If, while walking around the exterior of his house they were able to see Mr. Martin in distress, urgent or exigent circumstances would exist to force entry in to provide medical treatment to him.
Secondly, police officers can use what they call the totality of the circumstances, or the whole picture, to build exigent circumstances. In the example with Mr. Martin, the police could use certain circumstances to enter his home if they exist. Here are a couple examples of the totality of the circumstances that could lead to entering Mr. Martin's house:
- The grass is overgrown
- The mail has not been collected for at least four days
- The car is in the garage
- No lights are on in the house
- He has a history of declining health
- No contact information can be found for any family members
By looking at these factors collectively, there is a good chance the police will force entry into Mr. Martin's house to check on his welfare.
Let's review. Police departments should assist someone whenever called upon. An outside observer may think a welfare check, or when the police respond to a requested area to check on the safety or well-being of a person, seems trivial, but it is significant to the reporting person. The police have to and will most often work by the letter of the law.
Police officers will do their diligence in locating and checking on the person requested. When doing so, they must take into account the totality of the circumstances, or the whole picture, and pursue either exigent circumstances - or conditions that demand entry and prompt action - or a warrant - which is a petition to the court - if necessary.
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Prompts About Police Welfare Checks:
Create a set of flashcards that provides the definitions of each of the bold terms given in the lesson (welfare check, warrant, exigent circumstances, totality of the circumstances).
Example: A warrant is a court order that allows the police to enter an area.
Write an essay of at least three to four paragraphs that first explains the grounds on which a warrant is granted. Then, describe how the police can forcibly enter a home without a warrant during a welfare check.
Example: The police can use exigent or urgent circumstances to forcibly enter a house on a welfare check if they look through the windows and see someone laying on the floor.
In approximately three to four paragraphs, write about a scenario in which it could be necessary to call the police and ask for a welfare check on a person. If you have actually done this before in real life, feel free to write about that experience. If not, or if you simply do not want to share, that is ok; simply make up a scenario.
Example: Your best friend has been struggling with suicidal thoughts. You usually talk to each other at least twice a day, but you have not been able to get a hold of him in 24 hours.
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