Catchall Policing and the Fourth Amendment

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Duke Law Journal Online

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American police do a bit of everything. They direct traffic, resolve private disputes, help the sick and injured, and do animal control. Far less frequently than one might think, they make arrests. Americans reflexively call the police for troubles, big and small. The “catchall tradition” is shorthand for this melding of non-adversarial, public assistance with adversarial, crime-control functions. The catchall tradition means that civilians are exposed to the police's coercive power as a condition of receiving police help. This Article contends that the catchall tradition is antithetical to constitutional police regulation. The Supreme Court has distinguished adversarial from non-adversarial state action, often imposing less Fourth Amendment constraint on the latter. The Court recently reaffirmed this distinction in Caniglia v. Strom. But the catchall tradition makes it impossible for the police themselves let alone courts to distinguish between the police's non-adversarial and adversarial functions. This is a problem without a doctrinal solution. The Article thus concludes that meaningful constitutional regulation of police requires remaking police agencies in a more decisively adversarial mold.

Recommended Citation

Nirej Sekhon, Catchall Policing and the Fourth Amendment, 71 Duke L.J. Online (May 2022),



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