Q. I wonder if you could discuss the authority of private security guards or perhaps just give me links to applicable code sections. I realize they can make a citizen’s arrest just like anyone else, but do they have additional powers? And, of course, if they attempt to detain a person, what is their authority in that event?


A. The topic of private security guards is a timely one, because it seems like most stores I visit nowadays employ a security guard, if not several. An interesting fact: in California, security guards outnumber peace officers 4 to 1. Given that it’s a growing industry and one that permeates our everyday lives, it is certainly useful to learn more about the profession and its requirements: licensing and registration, training, and, as you mention, the security guard’s role and responsibilities in the scope of his or her employment.

In California, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS), a division of the Department of Consumer Affairs, has jurisdiction over the private security industry. The basic requirements to register and be licensed as a security guard with the BSIS are listed on the bureau’s Security Guard Fact Sheet, which also gives information on the necessary permits needed for security guards to carry batons, firearms, or tear gas; each type of weapon requires its own separate training and other requirements such as a criminal background check and U.S. citizenship. A valid security guard registration alone does not automatically entitle a security guard to carry any of these weapons.

Like all other citizens, security guards have the power to make a private person (citizen’s) arrest, as authorized by California Penal Code Sections 837-849; mandatory 8-hour training on Power to Arrest is required for all applicants seeking registration as a security guard. You can read the Bureau’s Power to Arrest Training Manual on its website, but here are some excerpts that may answer your question on a security guard’s authority:

• A security guard is NOT a peace officer. This means that a security guard is not obligated to make a citizen’s arrest.

• A security guard’s primary responsibility should be to protect the property or persons he or she is assigned to protect. In that role, he or she is an agent of the property owner and can question people on the owner’s property and may prevent someone from entering private property by standing in his way.

• The main role of a security guard should be PREVENTION.

• If prevention is not possible, the role of a security guard should be to OBSERVE and REPORT.

• A security guard should never touch a suspect except when they are protecting a citizen, protecting their employer’s property, in self-defense, or when necessary to use reasonable force in effecting an arrest. What’s reasonable force? Reasonable force in an arrest situation is the degree of force reasonably needed to detain an individual and to protect oneself. (People v. Garcia, 274 Cal. App. 2d 100 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 1969)). To read the case opinion, go to http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions.htms.

The BCIS has provided a wealth of information on the licensing and training requirements for security guards, proprietary private security officers, and many other security-related positions. If you’d like more information, you can read the entire Power to Arrest Training Manual, the 19-page Security Guard Guide, and the authorizing statutes in the California Business and Professions Code Sections 7580-7588.5, containing the Private Security Services Act. Other relevant California code sections are referenced in the literature, such as the laws governing the possession and registration of firearms. You can find those code sections and more at www.leginfo.ca.gov/calaw.

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian