Can Security Guards Arrest Someone? When Can a Security Guard Detain a Civilian?

Learn more about security guards and; the authority to arrest civilians, including legal boundaries and situations where they can act.

Can a security guard place someone under arrest, detaining the civilian like a police/peace officer would? Yes, they can arrest people — but they don’t have the same authority as a cop.

Since a security guard is not legally a police/peace officer, they are governed as civilians. Like any Canadian, they have the right to arrest and detain someone to prevent further crime and protect others from harm. The Criminal Code of Canada sets guidelines for citizen arrests, and following those regulations keeps security guards, detainees, and the general public safe while respecting everyone’s right to freedom and safety.

What is an arrest?

An arrest is the act of taking a person into custody by legal authorities, typically law enforcement officers, to charge them with a crime or suspected offence. When someone is arrested, they are temporarily deprived of their freedom and are usually taken to a police station or detention centre for further processing.

Arrests are made when someone engages in criminal activity or puts the safety of the public at risk. Some common reasons for arrest include: ● Suspected involvement in criminal activities such as theft, assault, drug offenses, or fraud ● Breaking laws — traffic violations, trespassing, or disturbing the peace, to name a few ● Failure to comply with legal orders, such as resisting arrest or disobeying a court order ● Attempting to evade arrest or fleeing from the scene of a crime

Arrests play a vital role in protecting the public and upholding the very fabric of society — it’s a concept nearly as old as civilization itself. It hinges on the basic assumption that someone who has committed a crime is likely to repeat such behaviour. First and foremost, arrests prevent further harm. By apprehending individuals who have committed crimes or pose a threat to public safety, arrests effectively remove them from the streets, reducing the risk of additional harm to others. This proactive approach helps maintain community security and fosters a safer society.

Of course, it’s about punishment, too. Arrests are instrumental in upholding the rule of law and promoting accountability. They reinforce the fundamental principle that individuals are responsible for their actions and will face consequences for violating laws and regulations. By holding offenders accountable, arrests maintain order and preserve society’s trust in one another. This, in turn, helps cultivate a sense of trust and confidence in the legal system among the general public — it’s a tangible and visible way of carrying out justice.

Additionally, arrests serve as a powerful deterrent against criminal behaviour. The knowledge that law enforcement agencies have the authority to apprehend individuals who engage in unlawful activities acts as a deterrent to potential offenders, discouraging them from committing crimes.

By initiating the legal process, arrests pave the way for individuals to be formally charged with offenses, undergo fair trials, and, if found guilty, receive appropriate penalties or rehabilitation. This process not only holds offenders accountable for their actions but also provides closure and peace of mind for victims.

Arrests stop dangerous individuals and activities in their tracks and are a vital technique in a security guard’s role to protect the public and the business. But, security guards can't make an arrest exactly like a peace officer can.

They can make a citizen’s arrest, though.

What is a citizen’s arrest?

A citizen’s arrest is when a civilian — not a peace officer — detains another individual after witnessing or discovering that individual committing a crime against them. Critically, the Canadian government clarifies that this kind of arrest is only legal when it's otherwise not feasible for a peace officer to make the arrest themselves.

While citizens have no obligation or legal requirement to take matters into their own hands, security guards will likely be put into the scenario by the nature of their job. When that happens, others will turn to them for protection, and they need to effectively use their training to resolve the situation, even if that means physically restricting someone.

In the case of a security guard, it’s easy to understand how making a citizen’s arrest during an attempted robbery, for instance, is a logical, reasonable, and legal use of the concept. A security guard is a civilian so they need to abide by all the same rules as anyone else. While a security guard’s badge gives them authority and visibility within the realm of their workplace, it does not give them special authority over other civilians.

While a security guard is permitted to use force during a citizen’s arrest — as you can imagine, not everyone goes willingly — there’s an important line between reasonable and excessive force. Reasonable force is contact necessary to restrain and detain the individual without causing them additional harm. Excessive force is when the security guard is too rough or careless, injuring the arrested individual due to ill will or negligence.

However, a citizen’s arrest can be as simple as a verbal command. A security guard can tell a person they are under arrest and that they must wait until officers arrive. The person might submit to arrest — sometimes it’s that easy.

A Security Guard’s Power to Arrest

A security guard can make a citizen’s arrest, but what exactly does that mean? Where are the limits between a citizen’s arrest and an officer’s arrest? In many ways, they’re the same, but since civilians don’t have legal authority, someone could not be charged with resisting arrest.

In fact, there are a lot of things a security guard needs to consider before making an arrest. Staying within the legal confines of a security guard’s allowable use of force and detainment is crucial. These careful legal considerations are one of many reasons that security guards need top-notch, in-depth training and certification.

Security guards must understand their rights and responsibilities, especially when dealing with contentious situations like citizen arrests. If they witness a crime, they can make a citizen’s arrest. But they need to be careful and humane in handling and detaining the individual. Plus, it’s critical that the security guard contact law enforcement as soon as possible.

The security guard’s purpose is to detain the individual until the police arrive. If the individual refuses to stick around or tries to escape, the security guard can pursue them and use reasonable force to bring them into custody.

There are certain situations in which a security guard cannot and should not make an arrest, though. For instance, breaking the rules of the establishment—but not actually committing a crime—is not grounds for arrest. They also have to be sure they actually witnessed the crime. A security guard cannot make an arrest to investigate a tip or suspicion. They also can’t discriminate based on race, sex, ethnicity, or other factors and use that as a basis for arrest.

These limitations might seem straightforward, but in a high-stress situation, they might not seem so obvious. When it comes time to prosecute the individual, the defence could bring up the security guard’s arrest, so it’s crucial for the guard to stay well within the confines of the law.

After making an arrest, a security guard must detain the individual and immediately contact the police to make a valid and official arrest. Once the police arrive and take over the situation, the individual is handed over for further processing, including charging and possible prosecution.

But the security guard’s job isn’t done. They then need to complete their documentation of the incident, which would include an explanation of the events leading up to the citizen’s arrest. The security guard’s training prepares them for what to include in a report like this.

Ready to start your own career as a security guard and learn all the details, including when it’s wise to make an arrest? Take the next step and get the training you need to become a licensed security guard with a thriving career.

Quinn Smith ·

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