POWER TO ARREST (Lesson 20 of 25)

What Is The Right Way To Approach Suspects?

Guilt by association is not a lawful way to make arrests. Let’s look at an example:

It is 11:00 p.m. and a security guard/proprietary private security officer is making his/her rounds of the plant when he finds Gate No. 5 open. There are pry marks on the chain that normally holds the gate shut. About 50 yards from the gate is an old pickup truck parked by the side of the road. The hood is up, and two men are bent over looking at the motor. The proprietary security officer proprietary walks over and says, “All right, you guys. What are you doing here?” One of the men responds by saying, “What’s it to you pal?” The security guard/proprietary private security officer answers angrily, “Look, you better tell me what you’re doing here or you’re in trouble!” Neither man replies. One of them gets into the driver’s seat and turns over the engine. The proprietary security officer proprietary then asks, “Didn’t you hear what I said?” The other man says, “Leave us alone.” The proprietary security officer proprietary moves to the front of the truck and grabs the man’s arm, stating, “You guys aren’t going anywhere until you answer a few questions.”

Analysis

Finding the gate open with pry marks on the chain does not necessarily mean that a crime has been committed. There are a number of possible explanations short of forced entry. Next, there is nothing to tie the two men to forcing the gate open except that their truck was parked nearby. The security guard/proprietary private security officer cannot demand that the men answer his questions. The security guard/proprietary private security officer’s attitude, tone of voice, uniform, and badge could easily have made the men believe that they were being arrested. If the security guard/proprietary private security officer refused to let them leave and if it turned out they had nothing to do with forcing the gate, the men could sue the security guard/proprietary private security officer for false arrest and for battery, because the security guard/proprietary private security officer grabbed the man’s arm.

What the Security Guard/Proprietary Private Security Officer Should Have Done

First, he/she should have examined the condition of the gate carefully, recorded the license number of the truck, and obtained a description of the two men. Next, the security guard/proprietary private security officer should have secured the gate and reported its condition to his/her supervisor, being careful to watch for other suspicious activity. The security guard/proprietary private security officer may or may not decide to talk with the two men. He might enter into a friendlier conversation with them by asking if they had seen anyone near the gate. If they are not cooperative, there is nothing the security guard/proprietary private security officer can do except observe closely. The security guard/proprietary private security officer should never touch another person except when reasonable force is necessary when placing that person under citizen’s arrest.

A Better Approach

Remember the part about friendly conversation? Although you cannot demand answers from a person, you can always engage them in casual conversation. Here is a better approach:

“Hi! Got car troubles?” One of the men replies, “Yeah! This darn thing shorts out every once in a while.” The security guard/proprietary private security officer then asks, “Say, have you seen anybody around the gate?”

The men reply, “No, we haven’t seen anyone except you.” The security guard/proprietary private security officer says, “How long have you been here?” “Oh, maybe five minutes.” “Well, thanks for your help. If you need to call for road service, I can make the call for you.” “Thanks anyway, but we’ll get it going.” The security guard/proprietary private security officer then walks away.

The security guard/proprietary private security officer may not have gotten much information, but at least he/she had a chance to observe each man closely and check their activities without running the risk of bad public relations or a false citizen’s arrest suit.