What can security guards do legally?

A security guard is a broad term referring to a business guard, private security, residential, mobile, event, and other types of security guard. Regarding the nature and duties of their job, security guards have different responsibilities, tasks, and assignments. However, there are some legal limitations and authorities that concern the security guard. You might be wondering what the actual legal powers and permitted activities security guards can apply if something really happens. To answer this question and reveal the legal rights of action that these guards have permission to practice, the security guard patrol has provided an overview of the juridical side of this profession.

When questioning what to look for when hiring a security company the legal aspect is important, especially the one referring to the legal authorizations of the security agents.what can security guards do legally

Understanding the legal power of security guards

The legal power of security guards depends on their level of authorized power. The status of authority is clustered into three groups of power:

  • Private security guard whose powers are limited to citizen level
  • Security guards are licensed with special authorization powers issued by local government institutions
  • Security guards who are at the same time law enforcement (police officers)

Understanding the legal power of security guards helps determine the training level they should receive to achieve their objectives. In cases when security guards are vested by local or government authorities, they have the same legal jurisdictions as public law enforcement.  However, most private security guards have the same level of legal power as other citizens.

What can security guards do (according to the law)?


As most security guards operate with the same legal rights as ordinary citizens, they are empowered to arrest. As any other citizen, in cases, where a felony has been committed in a presence of a security guard, or absence of a security guard but the guard has a reasonable motive to believe that someone committed a felony, he has the right to arrest a potential offender until law enforcement arrives. However, private security guards’ arrest, the same as citizens’ arrest, comes with the risk that if the arrest proves to be a mistake and therefore unlawful, the arrestor can be suited or a subject of civilian or criminal liability by the illegally arrested parties. This limitation means that security guards must be able to evaluate the situation to protect employees’ interests and avoiding to make a false arrest. It’s important to mention that citizen arrest is not authorized in every state, thus, the law regarding this act varies in different countries. Mostly, this law is narrowed or excluded in certain situations.

Nonetheless, some states have specific statutes regarding certain industries that provides wider powers to security guards than to common citizens, ensuring them legal instruments when dealing with thieves, vandals, and other offenders.

Regardless, security guard arrest considers that guard after detaining the individual must contact the local police department, meaning, a security guard may only “arrest” certain offenders for a time until a police officer arrives and handle the official arrest.

Search Person

Security guards are empowered to search the person following the lawful arrest, however, their authorizations can be even broader regarding the search of suspects, contrary to public law officers. This suggests that private security guard search implies employees’ lockers and desks, as the employees don’t have the privilege to consider their workspace their private place. However, a security guard search usually requires an employee’s permission or an employer`s request.

Use reasonable force

Reasonable force is considered the force necessary to detain a certain suspicious person or to eject a person from the property. To perform their job, using force is often necessary, however, guards have to be cautious not to apply redundant and excessive forces and thus excel their legal authority.

Carry a weapon

Security guards can be legally allowed to carry weapons during work time. However, companies usually don’t require armed patrol, and instead of firearms, opt for stun guns, pepper sprays, batons, and other tools. The exclusions are bank security guards as they operate in a high-risk environment. Private security guards must attend a proper arm handling course and possess a gun card.

Security guards that provide personal bodyguard services for VIPs, high-profile personas, or politician protection are usually legally allowed to wear firearms due to the high-risk, challenging,  unpredictable job nature.

3 things security guards are not allowed to do

Exceed the amount of force

When arresting or restraining offended security guards are obligated not to perform excessive force. This is a general rule that ensures that the security guard force won’t exceed the extent of the resistance force offered by the misdemeanor. As excessive force can lead to legal issues for officer and their company employer, security guards are required to take continuing legal education courses to be precisely informed and aware of their legal authority.

When it comes to armed security guards, the question of excessive force is particularly sensitive. Using weapons should be in dire straits, as firearms can cause serious physical consequences and legal prosecutions. Using weapons can easily be considered as overstepping if not applied in self-defense, causing serious legal troubles.

Violating private property or entering private premises

Security guards are not authorized to enter private premises or seize private property. These unauthorized acts withdraw consequences such as legal prosecutions for violating civilian rights or criminal lawsuits.

The authorities of security guards are limited to their workspace property, namely to facilities and areas they are hired to secure.

Stall the person detaining

Security guards are legally allowed to detain a suspective person for a reasonable time until police officers arrive. The stall considers prolonging and extending police arrival for too long. During the time waiting for law enforcement to arrive, a security officer is authorized to ask a person to show their ID, question the suspect about matters of detaining, or ask the person to open the bag for search. A reasonable time is not specifically defined, however it considers that the security guards have contacted the legal police department right after detaining a person and the time required for police to arrive.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, we have made a useful guide on what can security guards do legally. Only professional security agencies can provide trained, legally educated, and certificated guards to ensure quality and effective protection. If you have any further doubts or questions regarding this subject or looking for a security agency that can provide you with an adequate type of security, feel free to contact our team of experts to discuss the level of protection you need within legal scope.