Private security guards

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Private security guards are often used against activists or at political events to prevent access to an area or to provide additional security.

All security guards are required by law to wear a large, visible number as identification. Take note of this number and the company they are with in case you wish to make a complaint.

Security guards and council officers generally have little more power than do private citizens. They do have the delegated property rights of their employers so that, for instance, they can act to protect property or to demand that other people leave private property (see Trespass law). There may be instances where you have to determine which is council property, which is private property, and which is state government property, if various parties try to move you on.

On Commonwealth property, Australian Protective Service officials have powers of arrest over people they reasonably suspect of having committed an offence on that property. Also, on military installations the military may be empowered to make an arrest in certain situations.

Security guards have the same powers of arrest as everyone else.

This is commonly known as “citizen’s arrest”.

This power is provided by section 462A of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic).

Section 462A says that “any person” who witnesses an offence occurring, or where there is immediate danger of a crime being committed, may use reasonable force to effect an arrest.”

Security guards can legally arrest you. They must inform you of the reason for arrest, and then advise the police immediately.

Be aware of the restrictions that apply to the use of force by security guards – if you feel that ‘unreasonable’ force has been used you can allege assault or pursue civil action.

What is ‘reasonable’ force will be determined by common law (the court).

Security guards are trained to use handcuffs as a last resort where the person resists lawful arrest and cannot be restrained by other lawful means.

Because security guards do not have the same authority as police to use these, there is always room to argue the legality of their use. Incorrect use can again result in criminal prosecution or civil action.

Remember: private security agents are often armed and always in uniform. They do not have the same training, or the same oversight and reporting mechanisms as police officers. They don’t have the same power and authority as police, but they often act as though they do

Activists have often experienced security guards to be rough and sometimes violent. BE CAREFUL when dealing with private security guards.

A security guard is never allowed to search you or your property, unless you consent to it.

Do not give consent to any security guard to do this.

If a security guard does carry out a search without your consent, you may pursue criminal and/or civil action.

All security guards and bouncers must be licensed. Licenses are administered by the Victoria Police and regulated by the Private Security Act 2004.

All security guards are required to wear a large, visible number as identification. Take note of this number and the company they are with.

You can complain to:

  • Victoria police
  • The security firm who employs the guard
  • The Victorian Ombudsman, 9613 6222 or 1800 806 314 (country callers)
  • The relevant industry association. Security companies have a code of practice they must follow. Find out which association the company belongs to and make a complaint. The Australian Security Industry Association covers most companies. Phone them to check if the company is a member (02) 9906 4780

You can also search the register of licensed people here.

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