Emerging Issues in Security

Should Security Officers Help Police Officers in Trouble?

A shoplifter fights the police officer who is trying to handcuff him. A bouncer at a bar watches several drunk patrons try to disarm a police officer near the door. A mall security officer sees two police officers fighting with a group of gang members in the parking lot. When should those security officers intervene? What are the tactical, legal, and common-sense issues involved?

Security Guard Wearing Jacket

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While security officers are supposed to function under the concept of “observe and report,” there may be some times when it’s necessary for them to “observe and intervene.” Security officers will liaison with local police during their work in retail theft prevention, burglary prevention at a large apartment complex, “bouncer” duties at a bar, nightclub, or restaurant with alcohol-related problems, or at a sporting event, like a high school, college, or pro game. It’s in that transition period, where police officers arrive to make an arrest, or to take custody of someone already detained by the security officer (as in a typical shoplift situation), where the bad guy can feel it’s his last chance to fight or flee. The suspects may feel that both the security officers and the police officers are distracted by the custodial “hand off,” or other events or problems happening around them (other fights, loud music, bystanders getting in the way or interfering), so that they both lose focus on their respective safety.

But since most security officers are told in their licensure training, their company’s policies, and through the posted orders for their jobsite to use physical force only when absolutely necessary, to only detain someone or make a citizen’s arrest only unless legally required to, or to protect themselves from an assault, or otherwise “not act like a cop,” they may be reticent about jumping into a situation with a police officer, even when their intuition, experience, and the circumstances suggest it would help. The “rules” as to these events aren’t always clear and even most police would say, “Stay out of it unless we request your help.”

A police officer was called to a California electronics company by company security, to help them deal with an uncooperative homeless man who was trespassing and would not leave the property. The officer arrived and talked to two company security officers, who pointed out the transient. The officer discovered via his dispatch that the man had several warrants. As he tried to arrest him, the man began fighting and knocked the officer to the ground. The two security officers watched from a distance as the transient got the upper hand over the cop. They were unsure whether they should help him, until he began shouting to them for assistance. They jumped into the fight and pulled the homeless man off the officer and helped him finally make the arrest.

Going forward, it may help clarify similar situations by having security officers or bar bouncers politely say to any responding police, “Let us know if you need any help with this guy” and for the police to say, “If I signal you to come help me, come help me.”