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Security Officer's Legal Responsibilities and Liabilities


Actions based on poor judgment can lead to legal problems for both you and your employer. You must, by law, avoid certain actions. Legal responsibilities and liabilities that affect you are presented in this section.


The authority to arrest is given to all private persons. A Security Officer has the same power to arrest as any other private person. However, because the Security Officer wears a uniform and badge, this can lead to misunderstanding and abuse.


An arrest is a form of lawful control by one person over the actions or movements of another. An arrest is taking a person into custody IN A CASE and IN THE MANNER authorized by law. An arrest may be made by a peace officer or a private person (citizen’s arrest).


Crimes are generally defined in penal statutes of a state, or the ordinances of local cities or counties. All persons are expected to obey these laws. Anyone who violates a criminal law is subject to a fine, and/or a term in jail, or prison, depending on the type of crime. The potential for punishment as a result of violating a criminal law is called CRIMINAL LIABILITY. Some acts by security officers for which criminal liability is possible include:

INTIMIDATION: Threatening physical harm or otherwise frightening people when they do not cooperate or confess to a crime.

EXCESSIVE PHYSICAL FORCE: Where an arrest is made, the law allows only the use of physical force, which is reasonable or necessary to restrain the suspect if he/she is resisting, in order to make the arrest. Where more force is used than that which the law allows, the arresting party is said to be using “excessive force” and may be held criminally as well as civilly liable. An example of excessive force is the discharge of a firearm in shooting a suspect in order to protect personal property. By law, deadly force is allowed only to protect lives.


Becoming registered as a Security Officer DOES NOT entitle a security guard to carry a weapon. Some weapons such as knives with blades longer than 2 inches or switch-blade knives, brass knuckles, nunchakus, or sawed-off shotguns cannot be carried by Security Officers. Security Officers cannot carry a gun and/or a baton unless they have the additional exposed firearm permit and/or baton certificate. If they carry the gun concealed they must also have a concealed weapons permit issued by their local law enforcement agency.

Proprietary private security officers are unarmed and cannot carry a gun or a baton. Proprietary private security officers cannot carry any deadly weapons. Proprietary private Security Officer cannot carry weapons such as switchblade knives or knife’s with blades over 2 inches in length, brass knuckles, nunchakus, batons, or guns as they are considered deadly weapons.

UNLAWFUL USE OF DEFENSIVE WEAPONS: Security Officers cannot carry handguns and batons unless authorized by the Bureau. Security Officers are allowed to carry an exposed firearm and/or baton only after the security guard completes the Bureau recognized training and the appropriate permits are issued.

FALSE ARREST: MISDEMEANOR ARREST - a private person making a misdemeanor arrest may be found criminally liable for a false arrest if the arrest is made and the arresting party did not actually observe the suspect commit the misdemeanor in his/her presence.

FELONY ARREST - a private person making a felony arrest may be found criminally liable for a false arrest if the arrest is made or caused to be made by others and the arresting party does not have reasonable cause to believe that the person arrested committed the felony.

EVERYONE HAS CIVIL LIABILITY The legal term “PARTY” can be a person, company, or organization. When one party believes it has been injured, damaged, or wronged by another party, it may make a lawful claim for damages. The claim or “LAWSUIT” is presented to a civil court where both parties may explain their positions to a judge or jury. A court judge may decide whether or not one party in a lawsuit has damaged another. If damages are due, the court will decide, after a trial, how much money must be paid by one party to another. The responsibility for the things we do, or fail to do, with the possibility of being sued by another is called “CIVIL LIABILITY.”


As a Security Officer, you are a representative of your employer. Therefore, any negligence or wrongful acts committed by you may also cause your employer to be held responsible. Suits may be brought against you (the private security officer) and/or your employer.

FOR EXAMPLE: A private security officer makes a false arrest. The person arrested may file a civil suit for damages against the private security officer, his employer, and all of those believed to be responsible.

Even if the civil suit against you (the private security officer) or your employer fails, the action may be costly for you and your employer to defend.

WHEN SHOULD A PRIVATE SECURITY OFFICER ARREST? A private security officer who is expected to make arrests should receive explicit instructions and training on how to do so. Training should make clear the circumstances under which an arrest can be made and the procedure for making it, so as to minimize civil liability.

As a private security officer, you should work primarily in a preventive role. Use good judgment and exercise caution when faced with an arrest situation.

Every person must be accountable for his or her actions. Acts of a private security officer in an arrest situation are easy to defend when good judgment and good faith have been used. A private security officer must not be afraid to act in an arrest situation, but must use restraint and good judgment.

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