Laws on Retail Security

Updated November 22, 2016

Retail security officers must comply with state laws governing their authority to make arrests and detain suspects. Security guards have some special police powers incidental to their roles, but they must typically use state citizens' arrest powers to make arrests. Typically, private retail security guards can arrest a person only if there is a felony being committed in the officer's presence or the officer has reasonable grounds to suspect a felony was committed.

Privacy Laws

The Fourth Amendment provides rights to citizens for unreasonable search and seizures without probable cause. State and federal officers may not search and seize an individual's belongings without probable cause. However, this right applies only to individuals who have a legitimate privacy expectation, and if there is no reasonable expectation of privacy when and where the search occurs, according to, then the Fourth Amendment does not apply. Currently, non-governmental private security officers are not within the Fourth Amendment's prohibitions. For example, a retail security guard who believes (even unreasonably) that a shopper may be shoplifting the store's merchandise may detain the shopper and search the shopper's purse. If the purse contains illegal contraband, the security officer may give the contraband to a police officer. The contraband is admissible in court since the security guard, not the police, conducted the search.

Arrest and Detention Laws

The state may grant its citizens the power to make a "citizen's arrest." The majority of states provide its citizens with a broad power to make arrests for criminal misdemeanours and felonies that they witness. Typically, state statues allow any state citizen to arrest another individual when the arrester reasonably believes a crime occurred. Retail security guards have wide authority under these states' statutes to arrest a suspected shoplifter. Some states provide private retail security guards with "special police" powers to make arrests during their shifts. Some states require its retail guards to inform the suspect of the guard's authority and cause for the arrest. Guards may use reasonable force to detain a suspect and to protect the guard, explains the Secure Law Ltd website.

Agency Laws

According to California's Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, some state statutes provide the security guard with powers to arrest and prevent entry into property as an extension of the guard's services as the owner's agent. Security guards can physically stand in front of the owner's property to prevent entry onto the premises.

Licensing Laws

Most states have licensing standards for its private security guards. ASIS International, the largest international security association, issued guidelines to promote standard licensing provisions for security guards. Most states have minimum training and certification requirements that security guards must follow prior to licensure.

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About the Author

Jill Stimson has worked in various property management positions in Maryland and Delaware. Stimson worked for the top three property management companies in the commercial industry and focuses her career on property building logistics and tenant relationships. She holds a Juris Doctor and a Bachelor of Science in psychology.