"True Detective" gives viewers a taste of investigating crimes, both in and out of the police force. Rust and Marty go from investigating as on-duty police officers to rouge cops, private investigators, and even average citizens.
We don't suggest that people model their lives after "True Detective," but the show poses an interesting question: Can anyone investigate crime?
"True Detective's" main duo do more than their fair share of "off the books" police work, but what can off-duty cops actually do?
Even when off-duty, police officers are generally allowed to detain and potentially arrest someone if they have probable cause that the suspect has committed a crime. This does not mean off-duty officers have the ability to use the color of their authority to settle personal beefs or draw a gun during a snowball fight.
And although these cops may be "off the clock," if they act "under color of law" (i.e., with the apparent authority of the law), then the government can be held liable for their actions. Many police officers will be instructed to avoid making arrests while off-duty, unless the situation is life threatening.
In "True Detective," Marty becomes a private investigator after his stint on the force, giving him some authority to investigate the "Yellow King" case.
But even licensed PIs are liable to be charged with crimes if they:
Like PIs, and (later in the "True Detective" timeline) Rust, private citizens do not have much in the way of authority when it comes to investigating crimes. However, normal citizens can perform a citizen's arrest in two scenarios:
Ultimately, law enforcement has the best legal authority and protection when it comes to investigating crime, so don't get too inspired by "True Detective."