Observation by the Security Officer

In some cases, the only evidence that exists to prove that a suspect has engaged in criminal activity are the observations made by the security officer. For example, if you are working in a department store, you may be the only one who sees the suspect attempt to shoplift an item by placing it into her purse. Or, if you are working the graveyard shift at an apartment building, you may be the only one present when you discover that an entrance to the building has been compromised.

For this reason, it is extremely important for the security officer to have a sharp memory with regards to what was observed.

Your observations may be instrumental in law enforcement’s decision to press charges against the suspect. Additionally, your observations will be very important in ensuring that a proper record is made regarding the basis for your detention and/or arrest of the suspect.

As noted above, the Shopkeeper’s Privilege permits a security officer to temporarily detain a suspected shoplifter if the security officer has probable cause to believe the suspect is attempting to unlawfully take or has unlawfully taken merchandise from the merchant’s premises. Additionally, a security officer may make a citizen’s arrest if (1) the suspect has committed (or attempted) any public offense in the arresting person’s presence, (2) the suspect has committed a felony, even if the felony was not committed in the arresting person’s presence, or (3) when a felony has been committed, and the arresting person has reasonable cause to believe that the person arrested is the one who committed that felony.

In some instances, only the suspect and the security officer will be present when the suspect is either detained or arrested. The suspect may fabricate a story at a later date in order make it seem that the detention or arrest were unlawful. For this reason, your observations and memory will be crucial in proving that the detention and/or arrest were performed lawfully.

Most importantly, as soon as the security officer is able to do so, all relevant observations should be included in the Incident Report. The longer the security officer waits before preparing the report, the more likely it is that details will be forgotten. Preparing a detailed description of your observations in the report will be extremely important in assisting law enforcement in their decision to arrest and/or press charges, and will also assist your employer or client in deciding whether or not to file a civil complaint against the suspect. We can’t emphasize enough that you can never have too much detail. Write down the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. Get all witnesses’ accounts, or at least their contact information.