Monday, May 19, 2008

Security officer training mini camp-authority to arrest

Atlanta Ga. May 19 2008

Security Officer Mini Training Camp


As with your scope of Authority, as a private security officer, your Authority To Arrest comes from two independent and separate entities and yet if you have one and not the other, you have no such authority.
Security officers whether working as loss prevention agents, hotel security, mall security patrol officers, college “non-sworn” public safety officers or in any of the other many varied positions in the private security field “Do” have certain Powers Of Arrest but those “powers” are given to the security officer by state statue and by their employers authority.
Before you jump the gun and tell me that security officers can not arrest anyone unless they are deputized or gone through the police academy etc etc, let me explain what powers of arrest exist for private officers.

What is an arrest?
Some think of an arrest as a person being handcuffed and hauled off to jail and fingerprinted and photographed. Is this the true definition of an arrest?
No, it isn’t. An arrest, as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court, is any detention of a person. Once a person is no longer free to move about or leave, “it is an arrest”. Even if you later release that person, the court has ruled that he has been placed under arrest.

Let’s say that you are on patrol at a mall and stop a suspicous person. You and several other security officers block his movement, question him and take him to the security office to fill out a report. Is he under arrest? YES! Once the person no longer has the freedom to move or leave, it is a legal arrest!
On one side of the coin, the law allows you to detain a person that you reasonably suspect has committed a crime but on the other side of that same coin you make an arrest everytime that you stop someone and don’t allow that person to leave freely.
The key to this is that “reasonably” believe that person has committed a crime. As a private officer, you do not have what courts call “probable cause” which is what officers need to stop or detain someone. But the courts have recognized the standard of “reasonable belief” which really equates to the same thing.
If you do not have reason to believe a crime has been committed and you do stop and hold a person, even if it is a hold without handcuffs, you are arresting that person and here is where a private person and even law enforcement face liability and risk of lawsuits from false arrest.
If you have reason to believe that person shoplifted, robbed someone, committed a burglary, drug offense or other crime, YES, you can detain and arrest at that point.

There about a dozen states who offer some form of “Special Police” status to private security officers. Some of those include; Texas, California, Virginia, Washington DC, Ohio, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Maryland, North Carolina, Kentucky and there are a few others.
These “Special Police” designations come with varied amounts of required training and just like with police officer state training requirements, they will vary from state to state. This actually is very frustrating even in law enforcement. State A may require the full time police officer to attend the police academy for 600 hours while in State B only 480 hours are required.
The same holds true for private security training requirements. Some states require 16 hours for unarmed and 40 hours for an armed officer while others require just a few hours at best and more than a dozen states still require no training or certification to be employed as a security officer.

All of the states that issue the “SPO” designations require some form of training in laws of arrest, search and seizure, weapons and tactical defense training and criminal law training.
In some states including Virginia, armed security officers who pass this training are recognized by state statue as “officers” and they can make arrests and transport their prisoner themselves to the nearest magistrate without ever calling in the local police department for assistance. Although not recommended by N.A.P.O., it is perfectly legal to do.
Virginia allows armed security officers who have gone through the minimal required training to issue citations and act as “special police”. This is also true in Washington DC and Maryland. All private officers who have “SPO” designations and have been issued ID cards act as a police department within their coverage area. This authority is statutory. SPO’s do not have that authority on city streets away from their company property.

In North Carolina and Kentucky, security officers can be sworn in as “Company Police Officers after going through the required training. In North Carolina that training includes basic law enforcement training (BLET) of approx 500 hours. This BLET certification is the same training required of any law enforcement officer in the state.
Once the private officer completes that training, he or she can be sworn in by their employer if they are a “Company Police Department” as a sworn police officer. Officers may make arrests, issue tickets and citations and perform all duties of a regular police officer but only on the property of their employer or where assigned as a contract security officer unless they are in “hot pursuit” of a suspect.
Many shopping malls, colleges and hospitals in the state have formed their own police force using the Company Police statues.
Having this authority to make arrests is very productive and often essential for the in house security department. By having this authority, officers do not have to wait for the “real” police to come in and decide who goes to jail. That decision can be made immediately by the SPO on scene and the arrest can be made without delay.

If your state does not have the statutory SPO, you still can have the authority of arrest. This authority comes in the form as a “citizen’s arrest” and can be just as valid as if you were a “sworn”officer.
There are a couple of states that only allow detention and not citizen arrests so be sure to know the difference.
Most states allow these citizen arrests to be made for any misdemeanor or felony committed in front of you or in some cases that you have reason to suspect have been committed by the person that you are arresting.
In this scenario, once you have placed someone in custody, it is very important to notify your local police to respond to the scene. Once the officer arrives, inform them of the circumstances and the reason that you feel an arrest is necessary.
The police officer will then take custody of your arrestee and transport them to the local jail. It will be necessary for you to file an affidavit and in some cases sign an arrest warrant for the person at your local magistrate’s office.

Even if citizen arrests are not allowed in your state, you can detain the person for the police as long as you use reasonable force and do so in a professional manner.

Because all of these forms of “Authority or Power to Arrest” come from the two areas discussed earlier, state statue and your employer, it is extremely important that you have both the legal right and the authorization to arrest from your employer.
Making arrests comes with a lot of responsibility and liability whether acting as a “SPO” or a private officer making a citizen arrest. It should never be taken lightly and should always be done as an informed, trained professional. Don’t go wild and be crazy and overstep your authority.

As a rookie I learned many years ago, an arrest is not always necessary and even when it is, sometimes there’s no rush. If you don’t have back up assistance and things look out of control or possibly dangerous, forgo the arrest until either assistance gets there or file an arrest warrant for the person and go get him or her when you can bring the troops with you!
Making arrests can be dangerous, unpredictable and incite extreme emotions from the person being arrested.
Always use caution and be prepared for the worse when you are moving in to make the arrest.
Once you have made an arrest or detained someone, we recommend that you do not hold the person longer than one hour without having the police on the scene. In the event that the police has not arrived at that point, request them to expedite their dispatch and explain your reason for needing them immediately.
The longer that you hold a person without police presence, the more liability that you face. Liability and risk of a lawsuit for false arrest. If you have good identification from the person, release them and obtain an arrest warrant later unless the charge is of a serious nature such as murder, robbery, rape, burglary and so on.

In the private security field, hundreds and possibly thousands of arrests are made everyday by private security officers. The largest amount of those arrests comes from loss prevention officers making shoplifting arrests. Trespassing arrests are a close second and drug and alcohol violations are third on the list of arrests made by private security officers.

Search And Seizure

Here again, your authority comes form the same two places as your authority to arrest. Your employer and the state statues.

Let’s start with when a “sworn” police officer can search and then we’ll explain your rights to search.

Police officers have the legal right to search under these conditions:

Incident To Arrest- What that means is that once a police officer has made an arrest, they can search your person for weapons and narcotics and other illegal items.
If you were in a vehicle at the time of the arrest, the officer can search the immediate area where you were sitting without a search warrant. For instance, you were the driver so he can search under the front seat on your side, the middle console, glovebox, driver door pockets and that immediate area where you can reach.

Probable Cause- An officer stops you for a moving violation and smells marijuana coming form your vehicle. This gives him “probable cause” to look for illegal drugs.

Plain View
While investigating a loud noise complaint at your apartment or house, the officer spots drugs or other illegal items on your coffee table in his plain view. He can legally arrest and make a limited search of that area for other illegal drugs. To conduct a further search of the remaining premises, he needs your consent or a search warrant.

Consent To Search An officer may request permission from the driver of the vehicle, owner of the house or business for consent to search. Many times during traffic stops, officers will request permission to search a vehicle when they have “no probable cause”.

Search Warrant Police can submit an affidavit to the court based on their investigation, witness statements and other evidence and obtain a search warrant for your premises. This allows them to search for specific items such as stolen merchandise, narcotics, guns etc.


Okay, as a private security officer, here is your authority to search as allowed by law:

1- When Notice Is Given

“Reasonable” searches can be conducted of a person’s vehicle or property while they are on “private property” and notice has been given.

For instance, all vehicles parked on school grounds, both students and staff are subject to reasonable search for drugs. Notice is given as a term of their employment or admittance to attend school. The same holds true for lockers and any other property owned by the school.

Companies who either post notice at the entrance or notify employees at the time of hire, may “reasonably” search their belongings as they exit the property to insure they are not trying to leave with company property.

Examples 1

Company A makes wrenches, screwdrivers and hammers. To cut down on theft, as employees leave, their lunchbags, purses, briefcases, boxes and packages are subject to search. They may even have to walk through metal detectors.
A “body search” would not be considered “reasonable” and therefore could result in lawsuit and possibly arrest.

Example 2

The company has posted a sign at the entrance of their property that states” all vehicles entering subject to search”. This may be at a nucular plant, school, city or state owned property, park or private company.
By entering the property where the sign has been posted in plain view, you have given “consent” to search and now a reasonable search can be conducted to insure that the driver has no weapons or illegal items in the vehicle.
If the person does not want to comply, he can simply choose not to enter the property.
This is often used at housing complexes to stop the flow of narcotics and guns from entering the property.

As an agent of the property, you would be authorized to conduct those searches in a manner that the law allows and your employer mandates.

The United States Supreme Court recognized the need for police officers to conduct “pat-downs” of suspicious persons that they encounter during a traffic stop, investigation or while on patrol. These “pat-downs” are allowed for officer safety to determine if the person is armed. Should the officer find illegal narcotics during the pat-down, the court has ruled that it is legal to make an arrest.

These “pat downs” are not to be conducted on everyone that the officer comes into contact with but whenever a situation poses a threat or is of suspicious nature.

A “limited” amount of spill over authority has been allowed to be used by private security officers. As long as the officer is “reasonable” in their pat downs and doesn’t abuse or overstep that process, there should be no legal ramifications.

Reasonable Pat Downs:

You have found a trespasser on your property and the company is closed and there is suppose to be no one there.

You have detained or arrested a person who has committed a crime.

While patrolling an apartment complex at 3am you find a person who has no ID and you do not believe that he belongs there.

As with making an arrest or detention, searches and pat downs are dangerous especially if you are alone. Use caution and be alert.
If you feel in danger, Don’t Do It! Wait until back up arrives.
We will be talking more about officer safety in another segment of the training.

If you are a designated special police officer and operate under a sworn or commissioned status, your searches are covered the same as any law enforcement officer.

If you are not a sworn officer and acting as a private officer, you have search authority as outlined in When Notice Is Given and reasonable pat downs. You do not have authority to search a person, vehicle or property outside of those areas.

If you have questions, comments or suggestions please email me at


Anonymous said...

These discussions cover arresting a bad guy. However, as Security Officer in a Hospital, sometimes we encounter Psychiatric patients who escaped from hosopital custody and wildly run off to the streets endangering himself and other motorist. Can a Security Officer who started the pursuit from hospital premises continue the pursuit outside the hospital campus and take this patient into custody, to save him from injury or his life from motor vehicles. Is this an arrest?

Anonymous said...

I have worked in CA in private security for 10 years. I plugged "private person's arrest" into an internet search and was immediately amazed by all the mis-information. Some lawyer's websites said private person's can only arrest for felonies in CA. If so, I've illegally arrested a lot of people in CA for misdemeanors like trespassing, assault and battery, and tagging. Funny though, the cops who took those persons into custody never indicated that I had done anything wrong - I always had solid reasonable cause for those "public offenses." Then I read the internet opinions from certain other cops who kind of arrogantly claim that security officers should not be allowed to make any prv persn arrests (if so, the police will surely have a lot more work to do, and we would all be less safe).
On your website I read that CA grants special police officer powers to private security officers. With the proper additional training, that would be a step in the right direction, but unfortunately I know of no special legal status given to CA private security officers - we are just private persons who have been trained a little more intensively in private person's arrest laws.

cv said...

I do agree with some of your points, but a security officers job is risky! He can't be blamed for everything

Security Officer CV

Jonathan Jacobsmeyer said...

I am a security officer and am employed with Bedrock Protection Agency. I am wondering if anyone knows why their is no actual certified and accredited security officer training. I did find one school though that is accreditted for true security officer training but, it entails other aspects of Criminal Justice as well, not specifically Security only..IS there a school for this line of work only that would be similar to a police academy???