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Security Officer's Legal Limitations: When to Call the Police

Posted by Michelle J. on 10/16/2017

Security Officer's Legal Limitations: When to Call the Police

The demand for private security guards is climbing and even surpassing that of law enforcement. More than 1 million security guards were employed as of May 2016. In contrast, only 120,000 law enforcements officers were employed full-time. However, private security guards do not have the same rights and obligations as law enforcers do.

Security guards may be in uniform, but they are not public servants. They cannot read Miranda rights, and they operate as private citizens. This makes it necessary to understand their legal limitations and, at times, to involve the local police. Here are some times when security guards should definitely call local law enforcement:

After Making a Citizen's Arrest

Under the Citizen's Arrest clause, private citizens and private police, such as security guards, have the power to arrest a person committing a crime. However, while a licensed security guard can legally arrest a person under this clause, it's still advisable to enlist the help of police. Security guards should contact their local police department to report and file a formal criminal complaint.

State laws may also determine the validity of citizen's arrests. For example, the state of California requires security guards to witness misdemeanors before they can arrest an accused criminal.

It's important to ensure that any and all arrests made are legal. The arrest must be reasonable, and the security guard must have a probable cause to arrest an individual, such as witnessing shoplifting. For this reason, it's often recommended that security guards only make arrests when they are felonies, as opposed to misdemeanors. If your guard is wrong, it's possible that you will be sued and/or face accusations of false arrest.

When an Arrest Is Out of the Guard's Jurisdiction

Private security guards are usually hired to protect private property. The private property that a guard patrol protects generally dictates the jurisdiction of the patrol unit. Preventing any crime from happening outside of that area is not the security guard's legal obligation. On the other hand, law enforcement would be able to conduct arrests and pursue intruders that are located around the property. For example, if an intruder trespasses, commits a crime and then flees the scene, the security guard should contact the police. The police can then intervene to protect the safety of the guards and the community.

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When Assailants Turn Violent

There's no doubt that security guards have one of the most dangerous jobs in America. One of the reasons why is that intruders can be violent. When a situation turns violent, it's definitely time to get law enforcement involved. For example, if an intruder is armed or physically abusive, law enforcement must assist to prevent harm to your guards or even a loss of life. It's also key to stay in constant communication with your security team during a dangerous situation that could become violent, such as an armed robbery. This may require employing a guard tour control or guard patrol control that allows you to seamlessly connect with your guards and verify their checkpoints.

Final Thoughts

While your employees may be able to conduct citizen's arrests based on current laws, it's important that they understand the legal ramifications for doing so and when they should involve local law enforcement. It's advisable that your team contact the police immediately after making a citizen's arrest. The police can be useful in providing an account of the crime, including any details that may later help to solve it.

You must also ensure that your team of private security guards has the necessary tools to communicate not only with police but also with team members - a guard tour solution will facilitate effective communication. By incorporating these best practices, you can help to ascertain your private security team's safety and prevent unnecessary litigation.


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