Private security firms must operate in compliance with the legal guidelines set by their respective governing bodies. Generally, these policies are set on a county and state level by the relevant authorities and differ from state to state.
Non compliance with legal requirements can result in fines and/or termination of the security license. In worst case scenarios, personnel can be arrested and tried in a court of law. Hence, it is imperative for private security firms to adhere to the relevant legislation in their area.
In this blog, we look at several legal aspects that apply to private security firms in general.
THE ROLE OF PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS IN LAW ENFORCEMENT
Private security firms play an important role in maintaining peace and order. When businesses and individuals hire their own private security, it lowers the strain on governmental resources. That is why most law enforcement agencies and legislators encourage and support private security firms.
However, private security officers must abide by certain laws to ensure that they do not overstep their boundaries. For instance, security guards must be fully trained to handle suspects and de-escalate confrontation at work. Similarly, armed guards must follow legal guidelines to minimize the use of violence and weapons at work.
While private security guards have some privileges at work, such as the authority to display firearms etc, they are required to act responsibly and make sound judgments. Excessive use of force to neutralize suspects and inflicting bodily harm without cause is prohibited.
Breaking these restrictions can land the security guard and the private firm in a lot of legal problems.
KEEP UPDATED ABOUT LEGAL REQUIREMENTS IN YOUR AREA
To avoid legal liability, security firms need to know precisely what is allowed and prohibited in their jurisdiction. Something that is legal in one area might be prohibited in another. A practice that is considered good and acceptable in one situation might expose a security firm to legal risks and civil lawsuits in another.
For example, take the matter of openly carrying and displaying assault weapons. Many jurisdictions prohibit this practice and guards are only allowed to carry concealed weapons. In other states, carrying assault openly is allowed.
Another major legal requirement is to ensure that your security guards’ licenses are valid. There are plenty of cases where security firms hired experienced security professionals with outstanding military backgrounds. However, they failed to check whether these guards fulfilled local licensing requirements.
Random checks by regulatory bodies discovered that these security guards did not meet the local licensing requirements. The security agencies were held responsible for failure to make the necessary checks. Hefty fines were imposed and there were also cases where security agencies faced civil lawsuits for negligence.
If a security guard is wearing your company’s uniform then your company may be held accountable for their actions. However, if they are untrained or lack the appropriate license, then your company will be held accountable. If they are sued by someone, the plaintiff will include your firm in their lawsuit. This is because they know they can get more compensation out of business than an individual.
So what can you do to protect yourself? Make sure that all your private security guards’ licenses are valid. You are also responsible for making sure that they have the necessary training and engage in acceptable behavior at work.
COLLABORATION WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
One of the key requirements for private security firms is to collaborate with the public enforcement department to maintain security. Private security firms must have a detailed plan of action to get the police department and other emergency services involved in case of a security situation.
Currently, public–private cooperation takes many forms, ranging from national information sharing programs to local level operational partnerships with agencies. For example, private security firms cannot detain suspects indefinitely, and they must be handed over to the law enforcing department.
Private security guards can also call for backup from law enforcing agencies if they feel that the situation is getting out of control. In the case of bank robberies and retail store shoplifting, private guards are always instructed to get in touch with the law enforcing department as soon as possible.
The law enforcement department also relies on private security firms to share evidence and video surveillance with them. They may also call on private security guards to give testimony in court on relevant matters.
Many security guards in the private sector are former military or police department personnel. They usually have a network within the department and information sharing should not be a big problem.
However, we must remember that private security firms are not obligated to share sensitive and confidential information about their client with the department. It is best to consult with a legal firm on your obligations to share information and the extent of cooperation with the law enforcement authorities.
CONFLICTS WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
Despite efforts to improve coordination between the public and private security officers, there are many examples of conflict between the two. Conflict can arise when there is a dispute between the law enforcement department and the employer of the private security firm.
This is usually a result of unclear and poorly defined roles and responsibilities for each party. Many law enforcement officers are unfamiliar with the extensive range of duties that are covered within private security firms. Law enforcement officers may feel that the private security officers are interfering with their work or providing cover to suspicious activity.
Private security guards on the other hand can feel that the public officers are encroaching on private property in an unlawful manner.
Take a simple case here. Suppose a private security firm has been hired to prevent entry into a warehouse or office building after certain hours. The law enforcement officers might suspect that there is an unlawful activity taking place at this building and attempt to gain entry to collect evidence.
The public officers come face to face with the private guards and demand entry into the building. The private guards may refuse to allow entry if the law enforcement officers lack the necessary legal search warrants.
Under normal circumstances, businesses and individuals are unarmed and helpless. They may find themselves under duress to allow permission to search their premises, even if it unlawful. Since private security guards are armed and trained, they may refuse entry when the search party lacks sufficient legal documentation.
On the other hand, a security officer may refuse entry even if the search party carries the necessary legal documentation. This happens because the private security guard has not been properly trained and follows orders to the letter.
The lack of knowledge about their roles and responsibilities can deteriorate respect and trust between the public and private security guards. Both parties need to improve their training to address this issue.
Since this blog is directed at private security firms, however, we stress that they should provide appropriate training to their guards on how to handle situations that involve working with law enforcement officers.
LEGAL RESTRICTIONS ON PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS
Law enforcement agencies are responsible for maintaining peace and order. Their fundamental duty is to protect people and property. To dispense their duties, they are allowed to use a level of force against fellow citizens.
The society accepts this tradeoff, giving some trained individuals the right to use force in exchange for general lawfulness and security in the society. This works well for everyone because it is based on legitimate ways of doing things.
Things are more complicated with private guards. Private security services are generally seen as a supplement to State protection entities such as the police forces. They provide security for private individuals, businesses and properties that are more susceptible to theft or vandalism etc. However, they are not a replacement for public law enforcing agencies.
A private guard’s authority to use force is generally restricted to the assets that they are hired to protect.
For example, visitors coming into a building or venue must be clearly made aware that the building is under protection by private security guards. Any actions deemed unlawful by the private business can result in detainment or immediate removal of the person from the property, by force if necessary. If the individual does not accept this tradeoff, they can freely leave the premises.
Similarly, if private guards are protecting an asset in public – like cash filled vehicles – they can take action to prevent damage to or theft of the asset.
However, private security guards are not allowed to enforce law and order maintenance actions at public places, even if they seem justified. This is considered a form of public vigilantism and may be punishable.
Private security officers are only obligated (and restricted) to protect their client’s assets. This is where private security regulations come into play.
PRIVATE SECURITY FIRM REGULATIONS
Local and State governments regulate the behavior of private security companies to minimize conflict while maximizing their utility. Regulations can include everything from codes of conduct to use of force, use of weapons, minimum training standards, transparency of police records, information sharing, uniforms and much more.
The problem with regulations is that they differ from one place to another and cannot be applied universally. While some regulations are useful and improve the operations of private security firms, others can be completely useless and even detrimental to work.
For example, private security guards are generally required to show restraint when handling suspects. This can be great when a suspect is cooperative and listens to reason. However, if a visitor is acting particularly belligerent, it may not be physically possible for the security guard to de-escalate the situation peacefully.
The security guard can get in trouble if they overpower the suspect. However, if they don’t use force at the appropriate time, the suspect may cause serious damage to the property and even injure the security guard.
This is why regulations serve as a guideline on how to behave in different situations, but they can never be a complete code to follow in all circumstances. Security guards must use discretion in dealing with difficult situations.
If a situation ends up in a lawsuit, the security firm must be able to demonstrate that their guard acted in compliance with the regulations as far as possible.
PRIVATE GUARD LICENSING
Occupational licensing is fairly common in professions that have the potential to cause severe harm to people’s lives. Every profession from plumbing, electrician and construction services to medical and legal services requires qualified individuals to have valid licenses to practice.
The same holds true for security services. Most states require private security officers to have valid licenses that are generally acquired after a period of training. Security guards are also required to renew their licenses periodically to ensure that they are up to date on changing legislation.
General licensing criteria for security guards differ from State to State and include things like age, training, fitness and background checks.
The private security guards’ industry is necessary to meet the shortcomings of the public law enforcement sector. The industry is closely regulated, with new legislation being introduced every now and then to ensure the safety of public and security guards.
Private security firms need to collaborate with the public law enforcement department to maintain peace and order. There are many examples of beneficial cooperation between the two sectors but also examples of conflict. A better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of each side can improve service standards for both sides.
There are some genuine concerns about legal compliance measures that make it difficult for private security firms to complete their duties. With mutual understanding, new laws can be passed to increase the effectiveness of private security guards.