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Legal Authority of Private Security Officers, Citizens, and Community Groups

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1993
81 pages
This study describes private citizens' authority to arrest, search, carry weapons, interrogate, and detain persons suspected of certain crimes; it then examines the issue of liability when private individuals engage in combatting crime, typically private security officers.
These liabilities include a variety of torts, including false imprisonment and invasion of privacy. State regulation of private security agencies and officers is analyzed to determine whether a similar model of State regulation could be used for the crime-combatting activities of private citizens and community groups. State action was found to be an important issue that may limit the willingness of police departments to cooperate with community groups and private citizens. Substantial benefits can occur from police-private sector cooperation, but legal consequences both to the police and private individuals and groups must be considered. If police-private sector crime- fighting relationships constitute State action and violate suspects' rights, then both the police and private actors may be liable under the "State action" doctrine. Some courts have held that prearranged plans and joint activity between the public and private sector can lead to a finding that the entire activity is regulated by constitutional norms, such as the fourth amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. This report concludes that the authority of citizens and community groups to combat crime is currently limited and that legislatures may consider expanding the authority of community groups and citizens as they have in the area of merchants' privilege. If so, legislatures must consider new State laws and administrative regulations for both citizens and community groups, as has been done in many States with respect to private security officers. 3 tables and a 30-item bibliography

Date Published: January 1, 1993