Private Security vs. Law Enforcement to Protect Private Property
There are many differences between private security and local police when it comes to securing private property.
Police Detail vs. Private Security Patrol
Police details can be contracted for patrol duties on private property, however Cape Cod police departments are very busy these days responding to calls of every conceivable nature. Police details are also available only during certain hours due to shift schedules and staffing issues.
On the flip side, private patrol services are available 24/7 and can be much more flexible than police details when it comes to scheduling patrol times.
The private security contractor, while acting as an agent on behalf of the property owner, can access any part of the property inside or out. For the police to enter a building, let’s say in response to an alarm call, there would have to be probable cause for them to enter the building. In other words, the door would need to be open, kicked in, or there would need to be a broken window or some other evidence that a crime is/was being committed.
The private security patrol agent can perform a full search of the property on behalf of the owner and question any individuals on the property at any time, for any reason without violating that person’s rights. Police officers are government agents, therefore they need to abide by the 4th and 14th amendments.
What is the 4th Amendment?The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
What is the 14th Amendment?
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Check out the following article for some good points of view from a former police officer:
The decision to have off duty law enforcement or a private security firm is always difficult. Choosing State, County or Municipal police will always have some unforeseen drawbacks. As a former police officer, I can state unequivocally the following:
- Private security firms have more authority on private property than police. In addition, private security firms represent the property owners. The police, even off duty on special assignment, represent the City, County or State they work for. The police, even off duty, have to follow the guidelines set forth in the 4th and 14th Amendments of the US Constitution.
- The police cannot stop anyone to ask if they live on property, what they are doing, etc. This is a violation of a person’s Constitutional Rights which could open the police or property owner up for a civil suit. The police are not allowed to speak to anyone unless they have a reasonable suspicion that a crime may be afoot. Further, they must be able to articulate this suspicion in clear language. Private security can interact with anyone at any time. Because they do not represent the Government and the Constitution does not apply to private security.
- There are also civil law issues. Police work in the “criminal realm”. They are not allowed to become involved in civil matters. Property owner rights, lease agreements and other such issues are civil matters. The police have no knowledge or responsibility in these areas. Private security firms do. Private security operates in both the civil and criminal realm. This is also another area that confuses police… Security officers can move freely between civil and criminal matters.
- The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has ruled – “it is not the duty of the police to protect the individual citizen…” Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. App. 1981). Private security can and will protect all persons on the property of the client. Private security have a contractual obligation to the client. Police have a great deal of immunity against taking any action under the “public duty doctrine.” Police are not obligated to act on any citizens’ behalf.
One of the major differences between private security contractors and police is the right to detain individuals. While police can arrest or detain persons on private property provided there is probable cause for such detainment, private security agents only have the arrest or detainment right’s of any other private citizen. This means private security agents can only make a citizen’s arrest. In Massachusetts, this basically means that a person can only be legally detained by another private citizen if they are in the process of committing, or are observed committing a felony.