Do Security Guards Have Any Rights? Are They Obligated to Take a Bullet for You?

October 2008

By Rene M. Faucher

It is not uncommon for people, think jurors, to believe that security guards are like the Secret Service and have the rights of police officers and the obligation to save people from the bad guys. We have all seen the movies where the security guard throws someone out of a restaurant for making a fuss like in Beverly Hills Cop. But is this real life? The simple truth is “no.” The reality is security guards are not Supermen; They are actually ordinary citizens, no more, no less.

Powers of Arrest

An “arrest” includes the actual restraint of a person. But the restraint must be reasonable. But who can make arrests? Well, any police officer or person may arrest another person by restraining them, but only under certain circumstances.

A police officer may arrest a person when the police officer has reasonable cause to believe the person has committed a public offense or when he has an arrest warrant. If the public offense is a felony, the police need not have seen the offense occur to make an arrest. But if the offense is not a felony, the police officer must have seen the offense to make the arrest. It becomes much more complicated for the police officer in the case of domestic violence.

A security guard is merely a private person even though he wears a uniform. The security guard may arrest a person when that person has committed a felony, but only if a felony has actually been committed. If the offense is not a felony it must be committed or at least attempted in the presence of the security guard before a citizen’s arrest can be made. Whereas, the requirement is not so demanding for a police officer who can arrest a person for a felony as long as the officer has probable cause to believe the person committed the felony, whether or not the felony occurred.

Assistance in Making a Citizen’s Arrest

Interestingly, the security guard can ask for assistance from other security guards or other persons in making the citizen’s arrest. A security guard can also call the police and ask the police officer to make the citizen’s arrest for the security guard.

The “Magic Words” in Making a Citizen’s Arrest

In making the citizen’s arrest, the security guard must tell the person being arrested that he is being arrested, the reason for the arrest and the authority to make the arrest. Does the security guard always have to go through this verbal list? Not if the person to be arrested is in the middle of the crime or the attempt to commit the crime or is being pursued immediately after the crime. But once the criminal is caught and being restrained, he must be told what offense he is being arrested for, if he asks.

How clearly must the security guard articulate the basis for and nature of the citizen’s arrest? Not very. In a case where an intoxicated driver exiting a parking garage the wrong way breaking the entrance gate and hitting a security guard, a parking attendant signed a citizen’s arrest form indicating the arrest was for malicious mischief and vandalism only. The driver’s blood alcohol was over the permissible limit. When the driver challenged the arrest and the suspension of his driver’s license, it was held that the substance of the attendant’s actions constituted a valid citizen’s arrest even though he did not utter or write the “magic words.”

What to Do With Weapons in Making a Citizen’s Arrest

What if the person being arrested has a weapon? Can the security guard take it away? Yes, the security guard making the citizen’s arrest can disarm the person being arrested.

What to Do After Making a Citizen’s Arrest

Once the security guard has made the citizen’s arrest what does he have to do? The security guard must call the police immediately and turn the person arrested over to a police officer as soon as possible. The security guard must also inform the police officer of the offense the person committed and file a formal criminal complaint. If the police officer decides to release the person arrested by the security guard, the arrest is considered a detention.

What Do You Have to Do to Become a Security Guard?

A private patrol service/operator is a person licensed to provide security services. A security guard is an employee of such a private patrol service. A security guard must complete a course of training in the exercise of the power to arrest in security officer skills. The provider of the training course will provide a certificate to the security guard upon completion of the course. The private patrol service is to then provide each security guard in its employee a review or practice of security officer skills on an annual basis and keep a record of its completion for two years.

A security guard employed by a private patrol service/operator must be licensed by the State of California. An application is submitted to the State Department of Consumer Affairs who obtains the applicant’s finger prints which are submitted to the Department of Justice who in turn informs the State of any criminal convictions.

A new law that goes into effect as of January 1, 2009 requires an employer of a proprietary private security officer to provide a review or practice course in security officer skills and keep a record of completion of the course for two years. A proprietary private security officer is an unarmed individual who is employed exclusively by any one employer whose primary duty is to provide security services for his or her employer, whose services are not contracted to any other entity or person, wears a security officer uniform and is likely to interact with the public.

Can a Security Guard Be Armed?

Yes, but the security guard must first complete a course of training in the powers of arrest and in the carrying and use of firearms and then get a certificate from the State Department of Consumer Affairs Department. The security guard may not carry a concealed weapon.

A security guard can also carry a baton and/or chemical agents but only after completing a course in its use and obtaining a certificate.

What If a Security Guard Discharges a Firearm?

The security guard must prepare a detailed report for the Director of State Department of Consumer Affairs within seven days.

Is Liability Insurance Required?

Yes, the private patrol operator who employees the security guard who carries a firearm must maintain an insurance policy with a minimum limits of $500,000.00.

Of course there is a caveat. This is not for the purpose of providing legal advice and is not a comprehensive review of the lengthy and details laws that relate to security guards and their employers.

Please Note: This article is necessarily general in nature and is not a substitute for legal advice with respect to any particular case. Readers should consult with an attorney before taking any action affecting their interests.