In today’s world of litigation, people are increasingly more aware of their rights. If you’re employed as a security guard, you can easily find yourself in a tricky situation when it comes to shoplifting.
It definitely pays to make sure you know just what you are and are not entitled to do in such situations, so that you can perform the task of your job effectively, while protecting yourself legally at the same time.
Shops use all manner of different techniques to prevent shoplifting, and most of them act only as a deterrent. Cameras, signs warning of prosecution and even security guards themselves are often employed because the sight of them alone will put people off trying to get away with shoplifting.
However, shoplifting has been around for a very long time and is unlikely to disappear as long as there are still shops, so you will likely come up against someone trying to steal from the store you’re working in at some point.
Security guards do not actually have any more legal powers than any member of the general public, they have just been employed by a business to help them to protect themselves from theft. Security guards, like any member of the public, can make a citizen's arrest under certain conditions.
Discussions are currently underway that may extend the powers that people working as security guards have, but until this happens you should be careful about how you carry out your duties.
Basically, you are entitled to detain a person that you suspect of shoplifting, as long as you have reasonable grounds for this suspicion. In order to detain them, you are also entitled to use a ‘reasonable’ amount of force.
Naturally, if you forcefully detain someone and it turns out that either they weren’t shoplifting or you can’t prove that they were, they may then be able to accuse you of assault.
For this reason, you should make sure as far as possible that you have reasonable grounds to believe the person is shoplifting before you even approach them. A checklist for this may include the following:
Have you seen the person select an item/ items from the store that they have then concealed or hidden about their
Has the person then proceeded to leave the shop without having paid for the item(s)
Have you kept watching them throughout this time?
If you can answer yes to these questions you should be in a fairly good position to detain them. It’s best where possible to avoid using any sort of force if you can, and there’s no need to lock the person away in some confined area either. You should explain to them who you are and what is happening, and contact the police right away, staying with them until the police arrive.
The extent to which you are entitled to use force really depends on the situation, but it should only be used where absolutely necessary.
Your entitlement to use force to detain a shoplifting suspect is based on the fact that you believe they have committed a criminal offence, so you need to have proof of this to show that you were entitled to use whatever force you exerted.
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