Arrest by a private person

As a security officer, an arrest is an act that you may never have to perform but must nevertheless be prepared for. Following a lawful arrest, you are permitted to conduct limited searches and seizures of property.

This course will go into detail, using statutory definitions as well as case law examples of how to proceed lawfully. Your job is to observe and report, sometimes to arrest, and to ensure that the suspects that are apprehended get convicted in court. We want to preserve our evidence and make the best use of the law to protect the public, your client’s property and employees.

Learning these points will also help you to limit exposing you and your company to civil liability lawsuits arising from allegations of false imprisonment, false arrest, illegal detention, violation of right to privacy, and other similar issues.


To briefly review the basics, an “arrest” occurs whenever one person takes another person into custody. (Penal Code §834.) The arrest is made when a person is actually restrained, or when a person submits to the custody of an officer. (Penal Code §835.) An arrest must be made lawfully; that is, it must be made in a manner authorized by law.

When thinking about an arrest, people usually think about law enforcement officers, including the police, sheriff deputies, etc. However, California law specifically provides that private citizens are allowed to make arrests as well. (Penal Code §834.)

Security officers are not peace officers. Peace officers are provided with different training and have different job duties and responsibilities. For example, security officers are hired to protect specific people and property. Peace officers are responsible for protecting all people and all property. Unlike security officers, peace officers are required to pursue suspects who have committed crimes and try to apprehend them.

A security officer’s role is to protect the people and property on the premises of the security officer’s employer (or contracted client). A security officer’s primary role is prevention. The security officer is there to help prevent a criminal act from occurring. If the criminal act cannot be prevented, the primary responsibility of the security guard is to observe and report.

Because of the inherent differences between peace officers and security officers, the law treats peace officers and security guards differently.

A security officer’s ability to make a lawful arrest is governed by the same laws which govern arrests made by private citizens. Therefore, it is extremely important for a security guard to understand the law with respect to a private citizen’s ability to perform a lawful arrest.

There are two California Penal Code sections which describe when an arrest may be made.

Penal Code §836 governs when a peace officer may make an arrest. Penal Code §837 governs when a private citizen may make an arrest.