There’s a lot of confusion around security guards versus police officers and businesses or property owners looking to hire a security guard often wonder what security guards can and can’t do. Contrary to what many people think, security guards don’t have the powers of a police officer. In most cases, security guards have the same powers as ordinary citizens.
Depending on their designation, they may have the ability to search and detain, as well as carry and use weapons. However, not all security guards are the same. Understanding the powers and limitations of security guards is crucial when hiring private security for your premises.
Security Guard Law Basics
In general, security guards possess no more power than an everyday citizen. However, while there is no codified security guard law for private security guards, there are different designations that give them additional levels of authorized power.
There are three security guard designations:
- Citizen Powers – Most private security officers have the same powers as private citizens.
- Special Authorized Powers – Security guards may obtain special authorized powers through local governing bodies.
- Law Enforcement Powers – Some security officers may also be members of law enforcement; therefore, they do have the same powers as the police, such as being able to make an arrest.
Security powers are derived from several major legal areas, including constitutional law, criminal law, and contract law. In practice, what does this mean, and what are security guards allowed to do?
The Importance of Jurisdiction
Whenever a security guard is hired to protect a building, its contents and/or people, their jurisdiction is limited to the private property in question. Patrols, for example, may only cover their jurisdiction. While they do often have the power to arrest someone in a public place, depending on the municipality, they are not permitted to patrol outside of their planned jurisdiction.
What Security Guards Can and Can’t Do
Security guards face numerous hostile situations during their work. It’s important for anyone who hires private security to be aware of what guards can do to protect your property, as well as what they can’t do, so you can plan accordingly. So, what can security guards do, and where are the limitations of their powers?
Can Security Guards Detain You?
Can a security guard detain you from a legal standpoint? The answer is yes, but only if they have reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime has taken place. They can also command people to move on, such as loiterers, but they cannot immediately move to detain them.
In what scenarios can security detain you? One example is if a security guard notices that someone has stolen an item from a retail store, they have the power to detain that person. Another scenario where private security guards can detain someone is if they have reasonable suspicion that a suspect is unlawfully carrying an offensive weapon on the premises.
But is security allowed to detain you if you refuse to cooperate? Again, they do have this power. Private security officers can utilize restraints, such as handcuffs. Under the law, not only can security detain you, but they may hold you for a reasonable period. By “reasonable,” most experts agree that this is the length of time it would take to call and wait for law enforcement to arrive. In other words, while detaining a suspect is permissible, tying the suspect to a chair for hours would not be acceptable.
To prevent liability, an increasing number of security guards are employing the use of bodycams to document incidents in case the suspect makes a complaint and the incident finds its way to court.
Can Private Security Detain a Suspect Away from their Jurisdiction?
Some states do permit private security to detain a person suspected of a crime outside of their jurisdiction. Individual state laws vary on this matter. For example, in California, this is permitted within certain municipalities, but additional training is required to grant this power.
Can a Security Guard Arrest You?
Arrests can be made in the form of a citizen’s arrest if a security guard has witnessed a crime. Citizen’s arrests may also be carried out if there is a genuine interest in guaranteeing the safety of the public. Under the law, a private security guard who makes an arrest must immediately call the police. If the suspect is in possession of an offensive weapon, guards do have the power to take that weapon away from the person arrested.
Can a Security Guard Touch You During a Search?
Even though security guards can detain and arrest if they suspect that a crime has been committed, the issue of performing searches is another matter. U.S. law protects the rights of the individual and the authority to conduct a search rests solely with the police. Without the express consent of the person, security guards are unable to physically search a suspect, even if they believe they possess stolen property.
There are two exceptions to this rule. One exception is if the guard believes the suspect possesses a weapon. In this case, they are permitted to search and disarm the person detained and arrested. The second exception is if search permissions have been granted by contract. For example, a company may permit searches of its employees by private security as part of their conditions of employment.
Use of Force
Security guards are entitled to use what’s known as “reasonable force” to detain and arrest a person suspected of carrying out a crime. They may also use reasonable force in the interests of protecting the property and/or members of the public. From a legal standpoint, security guards must use the same judgment as the police. In other words, they are expected to use effective verbal communication before employing physical force.
Reasonable force is an ambiguous concept, which is why trained security guards need to have a calm head and the ability to analyze the situation at hand instantly. Generally, reasonable force must be proportional to the situation. For example, armed security guards would be permitted to discharge a firearm if a suspect fired shots first.
There are certain types of unreasonable force, however, such as:
- Use of choking
- Improper use of handcuffs
- Painful holds
- Abusive language
When it comes to the use of force, security guards are permitted to escalate if they believe their lives or the lives of others are in danger. As a rule, all reputable private security organizations operate on a policy of using the minimum force required to deal with a potentially hostile situation.
Failure to adhere to the concept of reasonable force could lead to physical damages, legal proceedings, and even incarceration. To protect themselves legally, security guards often choose to wear bodycams.
Only some security guards are permitted to carry weapons. Generally, armed security guards are required to undergo a more rigorous standard of training and certification. Individual states have their own requirements to enable private security guards to carry weapons. Melee weapons, such as batons and stun guns, as well as firearms, all fall under these same rules. Remember, security guards are not police officers and don’t automatically have the right to carry weapons.
Even when security guards are entitled to carry weapons, they are under obligation to only employ the use of their weapons as a last resort, such as in self-defense or if an armed suspect poses a threat to the general public. Due to the higher standard of training and certification, armed security guards tend to be more expensive to hire.
Now you know what security guards can and can’t do, you will be better informed to determine which type of security guard service will be best suited for your organization. At The Guard Alliance, we specialize in helping organizations to protect themselves and their employees. In an increasingly dangerous world, it’s important to make informed decisions about security.
Contact The Guard Alliance to learn more about security guard services and how we can protect you today.