The “community caretaking doctrine” is an exception to the constitutional warrant requirements which may be invoked to validate as reasonable a search of a car. The typical instance is when an abandoned, unlocked vehicle is sitting off the roadway, or sitting on a roadway or parking lot blocking traffic, or where the driver is slumped over the wheel.

Officers commonly do “welfare checks” which originated from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Cady vs. Dombrowski [1]. In Cady, an automobile accident had occurred and a disabled vehicle was towed to a garage. Officers inventory any contents of the vehicle to make sure any valuable property was inventoried and guarded.

The “community caretaking function is totally divorced from the detection, investigation or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of any criminal law.” The doctrine is an exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, which reflects the reality that modern society expect police to fulfill various responsibilities [2].

Police are expected to engage in activities and interact with citizens in a number of ways beyond the investigation of criminal conduct. Activities include a general safety and welfare role in helping citizens who made be in peril or who may otherwise be in need of some form of assistance. Police wear many hats such as criminal investigator, first aid provider, social worker, crisis intervener, family counselor, youth mentor and peacemaker — just to name a few. But are all involved with the duty to protect people, not just from criminals, but from accidents, natural perils and even self-inflicted injuries. Police are society’s problem solvers when no other solution is apparent or available.


[1] 413 U.S. 433 (1973)

[2] ullom vs. Miller, 705 2d 111 (W. 2010)