Security guards play an essential role in keeping people and assets safe at all times. However, can they take the law into their own hands by detaining someone without legal authorization? To what extent are security guards legally allowed to detain individuals?

To better understand what it means to be detained by a security guard, one must consider that this term encompasses the act of restricting someone’s right to move freely against their will.

In other words, when a security guard detains an individual they are denying them their freedom due to any number of potential reasons such as theft suspicion, trespassing or disorderly behavior.

The Legal Authority of Security Guards

It is essential to comprehend the legal authority of security guards and how it differs from that of police officers.

Unlike government employees, security guards only have the rights typically held by everyday people. Their abilities are therefore restrained relative to those in law enforcement positions.

While they do have some authority to protect the property they’re hired to watch over, they are not authorized to detain someone without meeting specific legal requirements [1].

In most jurisdictions, it is illegal for a security guard to detain anyone without either witnessing or having probable cause that the individual committed a crime [2].

Read more: 10 Rules Security Guards Should Follow

Citizen’s Arrests

In some cases, private citizens may be authorized to make an arrest when they witness a criminal act taking place. This is referred to as making a citizen’s arrest and allows them take matters into their own hands by detaining someone until law enforcement arrives.

It should be noted however, that in order to do so legally; one must have witnessed the crime being committed and not just suspect someone of wrong-doing. Additionally, those attempting to detain an individual must always use reasonable force and never threaten physical harm in any manner.

Furthermore, if the individual arrested turns out to be innocent of any wrong-doing, the arresting citizen can be held liable for false arrest.

It is important to note that while citizens and security guards do have the right to detain someone if they witness a crime taking place, this should only be done as a last resort when law enforcement cannot immediately be reached.

When Can Security Guards Detain You?

Security guards can only restrain an individual if they have reasonable cause to think a criminal act has been committed, or if the person is a hazard to public protection and/or the property being guarded.

To lawfully detain someone, security guards must obey certain laws [1][2].

These requirements include:

  • The detention must be essential and proportional to the situation.
  • The security guard must have reasonable grounds to suspect that the person has committed a crime or is about to commit a crime.
  • The security guard must inform the person of the reason for their detention and provide their name, employer’s name, and a way to contact them.
  • The security guard must release the person as soon as the reason for their detention no longer exists, or when the police arrive.

Related: What Are Duties & Responsibilities Of Security Officers?

What to Do If You Are Detained by a Security Guard

If a security guard decides to detain you, it is essential that you stay level-headed and obey their orders. At the same time, do not accept culpability for any wrongdoing either.

It’s important to remember that you have the right to know why they are detaining you and can request for law enforcement officers’ presence if desired.

If you believe your rights have been infringed upon, then it may be time to take action. You can file a complaint with the security guard’s employer, contact local law enforcement or an attorney for assistance.

Be sure to collect any potential evidence that will bolster your case such as witness testimonies and video footage. By taking this step now, you are protecting yourself from future harm.


Security guards are responsible for watching over the property they’ve been hired to guard and have some authority, yet without meeting certain legal requirements, cannot detain anyone. Remain composed if one does decide to detain you and comply with their requests.

Nevertheless, you are entitled to know the rationale behind your detainment and may call for help from law enforcement personnel. If ever you feel that your rights were infringed upon, it is of utmost importance to take action accordingly by filing a complaint against either the security guard or their employer directly with the police department.


Joseph Ferdinando is the visionary founder of Building Security Services, a leading security company renowned for its comprehensive security services. With an illustrious career spanning over 40 years in the security industry, Joseph has been instrumental in elevating the standards of security guard services for a broad spectrum of businesses and organizations. As an influential member of the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) in both New York and New Jersey chapters, Joseph has played a pivotal role in shaping industry standards and practices.