In general, laws give store security guards the authority to take a variety of actions to stop theft and the loss of store assets. Generally speaking, these actions must be carried out reasonably and respect the patron’s fundamental rights.
Usually, store security is permitted to carry out the following actions:
- Observe client behavior while they shop using cameras or “undercover” staff
- Use reasonable force to stop a customer from stealing something or escaping the store with stolen goods.
- Hold a client who has been suspected of shoplifting until further notice so that they can be questioned and looked into
It is best if store security has a solid quantity of probable cause before apprehending the suspected thief in order to prevent liabilities. Additionally, no undue force should ever be used and only be done when absolutely required. The majority of states have “shopkeeper’s privilege” laws that specify what a store owner may do to prevent theft and arrest alleged shoplifters.
Contrary to law enforcement agents, however, security guard laws are determined by private retail stores and reasonableness standards. A store security guard, for instance, must be reasonable when conducting an investigation and detaining a suspected burglar.
A store security guard’s range of authority is likewise very different from a police officer’s. Generally speaking, a security officer at a store can only detain a suspect if they have reason to believe that a theft offense, such as stealing, was committed.
In order to protect and deter theft offenses, store security guards may also forcibly remove individuals or request that they leave the property, but only from the private property (i.e., the retail store). If a store security guard has to physically eject a suspect from a store, they must do so with the appropriate level of force for the circumstances. If not, they might be responsible for any damages.
If a store security guard unlawfully held you, you should get legal counsel from a nearby criminal attorney to learn more about your rights. Alternatively, you should employ a lawyer to represent you in court if you are a store security guard accused of imprisoning a potential shoplifter without authorization.
“Probable cause” is typically used to describe scenarios where a store security guard is involved when there is reason to suspect that a theft has taken place. When a suspect does any of the following, for example, a store security guard may have reason to think that a theft offense has taken place:
- Approach and inspect a certain item in the store;
- Choose or obtain the requisite goods;
- Make an effort to steal or conceal the goods; and
- Run away from the store or leave with the goods without paying for them.
A store security guard would be deemed to have reasonable cause, in this case, to lawfully detain the alleged thief.
The detention of a suspected thief by a store security guard must be done in a way that is deemed reasonable. Although what constitutes a “fair approach” may normally vary depending on the circumstances, it usually entails:
- Requesting any type of legitimate identification, like a state ID or a driver’s license, from the alleged shoplifter;
- Requesting that a suspect be briefly searched to check for any weapons or other items that might endanger the safety of nearby customers or the security guard (it should be noted that private security guards cannot search without a suspect’s consent or without a reasonable suspicion that they are concealing or carrying a weapon); and/or
- If the suspect is not cooperative or if the store security guard determines that it is required, given the circumstances, they may need to physically restrain them.
A store security guard may not, however, use undue force when holding or restraining a potential shoplifter. A person who uses excessive force may be beaten, choked, improperly handcuffed, or restrained with cable ties.
The use of verbal threats, profanity, hate speech, or discriminatory insults may also be equated with using excessive force, depending on the specifics of a case.
A security officer may only hold an alleged shoplifter for a reasonable period of time. While the term “reasonable time” is not specifically defined, it is usually understood to mean a period of time sufficient for a store security guard to undertake an investigation (for example, questioning the suspected thief) and wait for the police to arrive at the site.
The time it takes for a police officer to arrive at the business will still be regarded as within a reasonable time range for holding the suspect as long as the police are quickly informed once a retail security guard detains a suspected shoplifter.
On the other hand, it can be deemed unreasonable to retain a suspected thief for a prolonged period of time if a store security guard fails to call the police right away after arresting the suspect and is unable to provide a valid explanation.