What is a Mass Arrest?

Felicia Dye

A mass arrest refers to a situation where large numbers of people are taken into custody by law enforcers. This type of action is common when crimes are being committed or suspected but law enforcers are unable to identify individual suspects or when there is a need for crowd control. There is often a great deal of controversy surrounding this type of action, as it is connected with civil rights violations. Innocent individuals who are involved in these incidents sometimes respond by filing lawsuits, which are commonly supported by human rights organizations.

Large amounts of people are taken into custody during a mass arrest.
Large amounts of people are taken into custody during a mass arrest.

In most democratic and just societies, people may be arrested only under certain circumstances. For example, a complaint may be filed, and after assessment of the details or an investigation, it may be found that sufficient evidence exists to charge someone with a crime. Another instance when arrest may occur under normal legal circumstances is when a law enforcer witnesses a person commit a crime or act in a way that suggests that he has or will commit one.

Mass arrests may be characterized by use of excessive police force.
Mass arrests may be characterized by use of excessive police force.

There are numerous situations, however, when a mass arrest may occur in these societies but outside of those circumstances. These include arrests during protests and rallies or when clubs or drug houses are raided. Depending on the incident, there is a strong possibility that many of the individuals subjected to mass arrest will be deemed innocent or the charges against them will be dropped. One reason for this is that when a crowd of suspects is so large that law enforcers cannot identify them individually, it is often difficult to prove the elements of the alleged crime or to present evidence strong enough to convict many of them.

A mass arrest may be conducted during a drug raid.
A mass arrest may be conducted during a drug raid.

Mass arrest can be a very controversial law enforcement tactic. Some argue that the tactic violates individuals' civil liberties. In many societies, individuals are supposed to be protected from tactics such as arbitrary arrest or prohibition of peaceful assembly. Another problem with mass arrest is that it can and has been used to further a wide range of malicious intentions, such as detaining voters of a certain race or preventing supporters of a certain political candidate from assembling.

A mass arrest may occur following a fight.
A mass arrest may occur following a fight.

Arguing that mass arrest violates such rights often serves as grounds for lawsuits. Human rights organizations also tend to argue against mass arrest, noting that not only does it violate certain obvious rights, but it is also commonly characterized by adverse treatment, such as excessive force or police brutality.

A mass arrest may occur during a protest.
A mass arrest may occur during a protest.
Mass arrests are a controversial tactic.
Mass arrests are a controversial tactic.
A mass arrest may occur at a music festival if attendees get out of hand.
A mass arrest may occur at a music festival if attendees get out of hand.

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Discussion Comments

sunshined

I live in a college town and have heard about several of these type of mass arrests through the years. These local arrests are probably nothing like what happens in other areas of the country, but still can shake quite a few people up.

Usually they are because of a large party that has become loud and out of control. Most of the arrests are because of underage drinking. That can be a situation where it does not pay to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even if you are not doing anything wrong, you can be taken in to custody just because you were at the scene.

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