The local police have multiple responsibilities, only one of which is the enforcement of criminal law. Police gather eyewitness accounts in the aftermath of a shooting, but they also assist lost children in locating their parents. Police identify and arrest those who have committed felonies, but they also respond to heart attack victims and help inebriates find their way home. Sometimes police check on the well-being of elderly citizens. As Professor Goldstein said some twenty years ago, "The total range of police responsibilities is extraordinarily broad .... Anyone attempting to construct a workable definition of the police role will typically come away with old images shattered and with a new-found appreciation for the intricacies of police work."
In the typical Fourth Amendment case, police have intruded on privacy in service of law enforcement objectives. Fourth Amendment intrusions by local police, however, are in no way limited to contexts implicating their law enforcement role. Thus, when police enter an apartment to render aid to a woman who is having a baby, they seek neither evidence nor suspects. Such intrusions instead involve what the Supreme Court in Cady v Dombrowski termed the "community caretaking functions" of local police – functions "totally divorced from the detection, investigation, or acquisition of evidence relating to the violation of a criminal statute." Of course, sometimes community caretaking and law enforcement are intertwined. When police respond to a burglary alarm late at night and arrive to find shattered glass around a broken window in an apparently violated home, officers may well go inside. They enter in order to apprehend a burglar and to find evidence of crime. They also enter to ensure that no one is injured within.
Fourth Amendment | Law | Law Enforcement and Corrections
Debra A. Livingston,
Police, Community Caretaking, and the Fourth Amendment,
U. Chi. Legal F.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/3712