What Powers do Security Guards Actually Have?

Many businesses hire dedicated security guards to protect their people and property from crime. Being without security leaves your business vulnerable to criminal activity; there’s no guarantee that the police will respond in time to stop any break-ins or acts of vandalism.

Opting for private security ensures there’s always someone watching over your business and ready to respond should the situation arise. Sometimes the mere presence of professional security is enough to deter intruders from targeting your property.

However when you security guards are confronted with intruders, you may well be wondering exactly what powers they actually have to protect your business.  After all, they’re not a police officer.

It’s important for security guards, businesses, and the general public to know exactly what rights a security guard has. For businesses, it helps to provide a realistic expectation of their security guard’s duties.  For the public, it helps individuals know their rights if confronted by a guard.

In this blog, we’ll be exploring just what power security guards have and how they can protect your business from crime.


The Summary

In short, security guards don’t actually have any more legal power than the average civilian. That doesn’t mean that they can’t exercise their rights as a private citizen to protect your business, however. All private security guards will need to hold a valid SIA licence. This ensures that they have the training and background checks necessary to work safely in the industry.

Let’s take a closer look at what security guards can and can’t do when on the job.


Can Security Guards Detain People?

Security guards do have the power to detain or ‘arrest’ people under certain conditions. Under 24A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, any member of the public, including security guards, is allowed to make a ‘citizen’s arrest’ if:

  • Someone is in the process of committing an offence
  • You have reason to suspect someone is committing an offence
  • An offence has been committed and you suspect/know the guilty person
  • A police officer can’t make the arrest
  • It’s necessary to prevent a person:
  • causing physical injury to themself or any other person.
  • suffering physical injury.
  • causing loss of or damage to property.
  • making off before a constable can assume responsibility for them.

Under this law, security guards are able to detain or perform a citizen’s arrest if they see a crime being carried out. Under the clause ‘preventing a person causing loss of or damage to property’, this could also include crimes like theft or vandalism.


Can Security Guards Use Force?

What if a person resists arrest? Our security guards allowed to use force to detain people?  Under section 3 of the Criminal Law Act 1967, security guards are allowed to use what’s called ‘reasonable force’ to prevent a crime.

The section states:

“A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”

This basically means that force can be used by a security guard but that it must be proportionate to the threat of the situation. Using any excessive force beyond that could be deemed illegal. Again, this legislation applies to every citizen, not just security guards. This law enables them to use ‘reasonable’ force to protect themselves, your property and other people when serving in a professional capacity.


Can Security Guards Carry a Weapon?

No, they cannot. Unlike the police force, who are granted extra powers in their line of work, security guards in the UK are not legally allowed to carry any sort of weapon, even for self-defence.

Security guards are allowed to carry handcuffs but can only use them within the remit of ‘reasonable’ force e.g. if a person becomes a danger to others. It’s recommended that security guards receive training in this area to avoid crossing the line and acting illegally.


Can Security Guards Use Security Dogs?

While security guards aren’t allowed to use weapons, they are allowed to team up with security dogs, which bring added benefits, including personal protection.

Again, there are strict rules about how the dogs are controlled and used, which is regulated under the Guard Dogs Act 1975. Security dogs can only be used alongside trained handlers and must be under control and on the lead the whole time. You also need to display a notice containing a warning that a guard dog is present.


Are Security Guards Allowed to Search People?

Security guards can only search people and their property with their consent. They are not permitted to carry out a forced search, even if someone is suspected of having committed a crime. If they suspect someone of shoplifting, for example, they are not authorised to perform a forced search without the suspect’s consent. In this case, they would have to detain the suspect (which they are permitted to do under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 ( and call the police (who are allowed to conduct a forced search).

There are some instances in which security guards are permitted to carry out searches without consent:

  • They can search people’s property if it’s left unattended in suspicious circumstances e.g if a bag is left unattended in a public place.
  • They can search someone’s possessions if they’re unconscious and need to find out who they are in order to help them.

Many businesses will employ security guards to search people’s bags before they can enter a certain space e.g clubs, museums, or sports stadiums. These searches can be carried out to prevent drug use, spiking or terrorism and usually constitutes a voluntary search. If individuals refuse to comply, security officers are well within their rights to refuse entry.


Why Do Security Guards Need an SIA Licence?

If security guards aren’t granted extra powers over regular citizens, then why do they need an SIA licence? By law, security guards need an SIA licence to carry out ‘licensable activities’.

The SIA licence is issued by the Security Industry Authority, the organisation responsible for regulating the private security industry. There are various licenses available, from security guarding, door supervision, close protection, cash and valuables in transit to public space surveillance using CCTV, key holding and vehicle immobilising.

This ultimately ensures that security guards have the training they need to protect themselves, your business and others. It also covers what they can and cannot do so they don’t cross the line and act illegally.


Why Choose Churchill?

We understand that there are a lot of security providers out there. Here’s why we think you should choose us:  

SIA Licensed Officers

Here at Churchill, we ensure that all our guards and officers hold a full and valid SIA licence, so you can count on us to deliver highly trained security guards and an exceptional service.

Nationwide Service

We can provide our comprehensive range of security services across the whole of the UK, so you can benefit from a Churchill solution no matter where you’re based.

Accredited Experts

Churchill is ranked in the top 1% of all SIA security providers and is ACS pacesetters approved, so you know that we’re a trusted and reputable provider within our industry.

Personalised Solution

We understand that every business will have different security requirements. That’s why we always offer a personalised security plan to protect your business.


Churchill is a leading cross-industry corporate services provider, supplying professional and comprehensive corporate solutions to organisations seeking expert security services.

To find out more about how Churchill can support your business and its operations, get in touch with us today.


John Melling

Group Chief Executive Officer

John has a proven track record for motivating and leading high performance teams and has helped mentor and develop many people at Churchill who now hold key or senior positions within the business. John is committed to delivering only the finest services, exercising compelling leadership, maintaining good internal morale and striving to resolve any challenges efficiently and effectively.