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What Are the Legal Powers of a Security Guard?

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The world is changing rapidly and so is the need for security. Businesses and corporates hire security guards to deter criminals’ activity such as theft, vandalism, and assault. On the other hand, in the public space people rely on the services of security guards to ensure they’re protected too. When it comes to event planning and maintaining the regular operations of busy locations, security guarding remains a top priority. Therefore, security guards continue to play a key role in the security sector, but the question remains that what are they legally allowed to do?

In a lot of ways, the role of security guards is similar to police officials. It often leads to the belief that they have the same legal authority as police officers. They wear uniforms, they often carry arms (firearms), they protect people, property, and are seen as figures of authority, law, and order. However, a security guard is not a police officer. He or she is not a public servant, and they have no more rights or legal authority than members of the general public.

What Is A Security Guard?

Security guards are employed by private companies, individuals or organisations to protect property and people by deterring illegal or inappropriate behaviour. They are commonly hired by corporates, banks, airports, shopping malls, nightclubs, events & festivals, and many other venues. More often than not they are required to monitor the surveillance systems, patrol the property, secure entry, and exit points, carry out identity checks and assist the people and employees.

They are not part of the local police force, and their authority is restricted. In specific cases, they do have the authority to:

  • ask you to leave and/or ban a person from private property.
  • arrest you for certain offences; or
  • detain or search you

Security guards are not allowed to use excessive force and are not allowed to carry or use a pistol in the great majority of cases. Security guards are allowed to employ a baton and handcuffs, although the baton may only be used for defence purposes. The company for which they work must be licenced, and each security guard must be trained.

What Can Security Guards Do?

Armed and unarmed security officers and guards are privately employed by professional security companies that contract out guard services or by businesses directly as in-house guards. While some are licenced by state or local law enforcement, they do not have the same legal authority as police officers.

A security guard, on-premises over which they have jurisdiction, has the legal authority to do the following if given the authority by their local authorities:

Can Perform a Citizen’s Arrest

While police officers have the authority to make arrests based on probable cause, a security guard’s arrest must be based on actual witnessing of a crime. They must have seen a felony in particular. It’s also worth noting that “arrest” just refers to the detention of a suspect. Private guards are held to the same standards as all other citizens in the majority of circumstances.

This is referred to as a citizen’s arrest. It entails the guard detaining the criminal or trespasser and quickly notifying the authorities to make a proper arrest. As long as the restraint is deemed reasonable, it can be utilised to confine the suspect.

Jurisdiction on Private Property

The jurisdiction of a (non-police) security guard is confined to the property they have been employed to protect. They have the authority to order someone to stop conducting unlawful acts and to depart the private property. If the behaviour continues, the subject may be arrested under a citizen’s arrest by a security guard.

Use Force/Weapons

When ejecting or restraining a person on private property, the use of “reasonable force” is permitted. The use of force should be proportionate to the severity of the offence, as well as the risk to the guard and others.

While the use of reasonable force is authorised, it is vital for guards to act cautiously rather than rashly; the use of unwarranted force, particularly when firearms are involved, can result in damages – not just physically, but also in legal procedures. If a security guard goes beyond his or her legal limitations by detaining, questioning, or using force against someone who isn’t a threat to themselves or others, the guard and the guard firm they work for could face serious consequences.


Typically, a security guard is not licenced to search a person without their express permission. Even if they suspect the person possesses stolen property, searching another citizen’s person or property is not allowed.

The power to search is highly restricted due to U.S. law’s protection of the rights of the individual. The authority to search personal property is typically limited to the police or must be conducted with a warrant or consent.

However, if the security guard has reason to suspect the person has a weapon, they may search and disarm the person while making a citizen’s arrest.

Search is also permitted in cases where permission has been granted by contract – such as by employees of a company when the company has required signed contracts stating such searches may be conducted.

Security guards can’t…

Detain people for an unlimited amount of time: They do not have the power to hold people indefinitely. A reasonable length of time would be considered how long it takes for the police to arrive or, in some cases, to carry out their investigations (such as if a shoplifting offence has been carried out).

Use unreasonable force: To include, but not restricted to, the application of pain, choking, improper use of handcuffs, threatening and/or abusive language, and discrimination.

Many security guards wear body cams to record evidence that they’ve acted legally and within the law when confronting individuals. They should also complete detailed and accurate reports following any incident. For those who’re legally entitled to carry a firearm, the deployment and use of this should, once again, be proportionate to the severity of any crime involved and the safety of the people/persons they’re guarding and any other people in the vicinity.


Professional security guards can protect life and property through advanced threat detection, effective decision-making, and quick response time. The hope is that an armed security guard never has to fire his or her gun and that security may be maintained without the use of force or needing to exercise powers of arrest.

To secure your business or event with the best resources available in Orlando, Florida, and the surrounding areas, contact Shergroup. We deliver armed and unarmed services, executive and dignitary protection, vacant site security, etc. In addition to security guard services, we offer a full security strategy for your business including CCTV cameras, monitored alarms, security K9s and steel doors and security screens to protect your property. We’d be more than happy to work alongside you and protect your business, employees, and visitors.

When you hire our security services you can rest assured that both individuals and businesses are wholly covered by the law and that their security guards are working within their legal remit. Contact us today to get started.

Content Writer​


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Last updated | 19 July 2023

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