According to Statista, there were over 300,000 people employed in ‘security occupations’ in 2022. They’re trained and licensed to carry out a number of activities in the defence of the public, property and personnel – and they’re very effective in doing so! We know that they’re an important part of our economy and work closely with law enforcement to keep our businesses and people safe, however, there are clear differences in what they can or can’t do in the course of their work.
Whether you’re looking to protect your commercial premises or need to beef up your security for an event, it’s important to know what security guards can (and also cannot) do in respect of the law.
What can security guards do?
Firstly, a security officer is responsible first and foremost for the safety of the property, company or group that he or she has been hired to protect. Depending on the business that you own or manage, the duties will vary, but with this in mind, they’re entitled to carry out the following duties:
- Keeping an eye on the premise with frequent patrols: Security guards are responsible for maintaining a visible presence and ensuring the safety and security of the assigned area. They may patrol on foot or use surveillance systems to monitor the premises.
- Control access in and out of a property or site: Guards often control access to the premises by checking identification, verifying credentials, and issuing visitor passes. They may operate gates, barriers, or electronic access systems.
- Responding to incidents and security threats: Security guards respond to incidents such as disturbances, trespassing, thefts, or accidents. They may intervene, de-escalate conflicts, and notify law enforcement or emergency services if necessary.
- Monitoring a CCTV system: Guards may monitor closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to detect suspicious activities, potential threats, or breaches of security protocols.
- Responding to emergency situations: They should be familiar with emergency protocols, such as evacuations, fire alarms, and first aid procedures. They may assist in evacuating people and providing guidance during emergencies.
- Keeping up-to-date documentation: Guards document incidents, observations, and any irregularities within written reports. Accurate and timely reporting is essential for maintaining effective security measures.
- Communicating with the general public: Security guards often interact with visitors, employees, or customers, providing assistance, directions, or information. They should maintain a courteous and professional manner in their communications.
Of course, a security officer may have a role that falls outside of the above. This was especially the case during the Covid pandemic when demand for security officers spiked to help enforce restrictions in public places such as social distancing and crowd control. You can read more about how the role of a security guard changed during this time.
What do they actually do?
So what does this actually mean in terms of the responsibility of a security guard? To carry out these duties, a security officer is given authorisation to take action should the situation require. This may include:
- Presence and deterrence through patrols: Security guards often rely on their visible presence to deter potential threats. By patrolling or standing watch, they create a sense of security and discourage unwanted activities.
- Intervening and de-escalating situations: There are a number of situations that require intervention (see below). Trained security guards may use verbal communication techniques as well as a physical force to diffuse conflict and reduce the tension in situations. A good security guard will know how to use negotiation, persuasion, or mediation to resolve disputes.
- Physical intervention: In certain situations where there is an imminent threat to the safety of individuals or property, security guards may use physical restraint techniques to immobilise or control individuals. These techniques should be within the legal and ethical boundaries and should prioritise the safety of all parties involved.
- Assistance and guidance: Security guards may provide assistance to individuals in need, such as helping with directions, escorting employees or visitors, or offering basic first aid until medical professionals arrive.
This means, security guards are typically able to:
- Search someone who is suspected of a criminal offence such as theft (provided that they obtain permission). In a retail setting, they can also safeguard people, assets, and merchandise, collaborating with undercover store detectives to prevent theft, detaining shoplifting suspects, and monitoring parking areas.
- Physically stop someone from accessing areas that they are not permitted into. For example, preventing a trespasser from accessing private land or preventing personnel from entering a place of business if they have not been permitted to do so. In office buildings, banks, hotels, and hospitals, security guards maintain order, ensuring the safety of customers, staff, and property.
- Carry out documentation checks and safeguard sensitive information In factories, government buildings, and military bases. They can conduct thorough checks of people and vehicles entering or exiting.
- Collect cover charges, and maintain a peaceful environment in the leisure industry. For example at bars and nightclubs, security guards (often known as bouncers) regulate entry, enforce age restrictions and physically eject those found to be in breach of the rules.
- Direct event attendees and physically detain them should there be any breach of conduct. At universities, parks, and sports stadiums, they handle crowd control, oversee parking and seating, and manage traffic flow.
- Protect valuable items in museums or art galleries. They can protect valuable exhibits, diligently observing visitors and inspecting packages entering or leaving the premises.
What are security guards NOT allowed to do?
It’s easy to assume that because a security guard is wearing a uniform they have the same legal powers as law enforcement, however, this is a very common misconception. Security guards in the UK have limitations on their actions and are not allowed to:
- Use excessive force: Guards should only use reasonable and necessary force to protect themselves or others from harm. The use of excessive force or unnecessary aggression is strictly prohibited by UK laws.
- Discriminate or harass those who they’re dealing with: Guards must treat all individuals fairly and without discrimination based on factors such as race, gender, religion, or nationality. Harassment, intimidation, or discriminatory behaviour is not permitted.
- Violate privacy or human rights: Security guards should respect the privacy rights of individuals. They are not allowed to intrude upon personal spaces or engage in unauthorised searches of individuals or their belongings without appropriate legal authority.
- Make unlawful arrests: While guards have the authority to detain individuals suspected of committing a crime, they do not have the same legal powers as the police. They must promptly hand over suspects to law enforcement authorities and should not make unauthorised arrests. A security officer can only detain a suspect with the intention of handing them over to the police.
- Engage in activities outside the scope of their employment: Guards should adhere to their assigned responsibilities and not engage in activities beyond their scope of work. They should not take part in activities that may be illegal, unethical, or against company policies.
- Carry or use weapons: Whilst it’s common to see a security guard with a physical weapon in the United States, security guards must comply with strict regulations regarding the possession and use of weapons in the UK. Carrying firearms or other restricted weapons without proper authorisation is strictly prohibited.
When hiring security guards, it’s very important that you review their licences and track their history. If a security guard is not officially licensed and an incident occurs, your business could be liable for damages and legal proceedings.
If you want to find out more about the responsibilities of a security guard, and the laws that they must abide by, speak to our SIA licensed security guard hire team here at Clearway. Protecting people, property and assets.