Security Guards & Understanding the Use of Force

Use of force has become a hot-button issue in the security guard industry as the companies and regulatory bodies involved have struggled to find common ground and definitive standards for using force. While there are standards in place that govern training hours and education, there is still considerable grey area when it comes to determining when, and when not to, use force in a potentially dangerous situation. In the sections below, we’ll discuss legal aspects of detaining a suspect, the use-of-force continuum, and the role that proper training has in helping guards determine the best course of action.


Detaining A Suspect & Legal Concerns

A security guard can detain a suspect, but it must be on the basis of probable cause and cannot be for an “unreasonable” amount of time. In this sense, probable cause is defined as having witnessed, or having strong reason to believe, that a crime or theft has occurred. What constitutes a reasonable amount of time is somewhat related to the circumstances and can involve handcuffing, patting down to search for weapons, or requesting ID.


Unlike a police stop, the Miranda rule does not apply to security guards and is not a requirement for detaining a suspect. Because the Miranda rights only apply to law enforcement, anything said during detainment by a security guard can be used in a court of law, even if the suspect incriminates themselves.


Use-of-Force Continuum

A use-of-force continuum is a policy that outlines how security professionals and law enforcement must conduct themselves when dealing with a potentially violent situation. A common use-of-force continuum may look something like this:


  • Verbal commands (nonphysical & no force used)
  • Controlling the hands (no weapon, can include physical force)
  • Non-lethal weapons (batons, tasers, hand cuffs)
  • Lethal force (includes weapons & firearms)


You can see from this example that a pretty clear line is drawn between different levels of force and it’s important for security professionals to understand the appropriate time to use such techniques. You can read more about a use-of-force continuum by clicking here.


Importance of Proper Training

As you may have guessed, proper training is essential when it comes to use-of-force techniques and understanding when to apply them. This is an especially hot topic lately as security guard standards have come under fire for being too lax when it comes to preparing guards for the job. In California, security guards must undergo 40 hours of training, 32 of which may be completed after being assigned to a post. Because of these training standards, the level of experience with use-of-force protocol may vary between companies and from guard to guard. You can view the requirements to become a security guard in California by visiting the website for the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) here.