Most members of the public and even some security guards themselves may be a bit blurry on the rights security guards have to arrest, detain and search. There have been many instances of security guards responding to incidents illegally.
Some of these cases have been reported in the media and many are the result of security guards simply not knowing or behaving outside of the laws that govern how they are permitted to respond in certain situations.
In reality, security guards do not have many rights above and beyond a normal citizen. Many of these powers depend greatly on whether the security guard is operating in a privately owned space or a publicly owned space. In a privately owned space, security guards are effectively acting as agents of the owner and have the same rights as the owner would in asking you to leave the premises or preventing you from entering. Most of the confusion around the rights and responsibilities of security comes from them operating in privately owned premises. In public areas, security guards have no more power than an ordinary citizen. They may ask you for identification or to be searched, but members of the public are not compelled to respond in any way. In public areas, security guards cannot ask people to leave, force them to hand over personal details or perform an unauthorised search.
Powers of Arrest
The only time a security may perform an arrest is if they witness a person committing a serious crime and make a citizen’s arrest. Any member of the public has the same right. If a person makes a citizen’s arrest, they must inform the person of the reason they are being arrested and must contact the police immediately. A citizen cannot make an arrest on suspicion, it must be due to a person committing (or trying to commit) a serious crime. If a security guard making a citizen’s arrest uses excessive or unreasonable force, then this is assault.
Powers of Search
Staff or security guards may ask to search a customer’s bags, but legally they cannot force a search on anyone. The most they can do is ask the person to leave if they are operating on private premises like a shopping centre.
Powers of Banning
Any owner of private property my ban a person from their premises. Under these circumstance, a banning notice should be served on the person being banned and should explain the reason for the ban.
Use of Force
Security guards may only use reasonable force when detaining a person for committing a serious crime or ejecting a patron from private premises. Any force deemed unreasonable constitutes assault and the victim will have legal options to sue or seek compensation. Armed security guards may respond with weapons only if they believe their life or someone else’s life is in danger. Handcuffs may be used if the person being detained is considered to be a serious physical threat capable of harm.
Security guards will ideally have a lot more training in responding to situations such as violence, theft or ejecting a patron from an event or function. Some security guards will be armed and nearly all security guards are trained to use tools such as handcuffs, tasers and firearms. It is important for members of the public to know their rights as they may be entitled to compensation if security guards act excessively and security guards should also be aware as they are acting negligently in their job if they don’t and may be placing themselves, colleagues or the company they work for at risk unnecessarily. Any security company should monitor their officer’s performance and provide excellent training as they can be sued if their guards act outside the law.