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CrimeBeat: What authority do security guards have?

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CrimeBeat Q&A is a weekly feature where police reporter Julie Johnson answers readers’ questions about local crimes and the law.

How much authority do private security guards have to issue tickets and enforce laws?

John B., Santa Rosa

A private security guard has no greater authority than anyone else when in public and cannot issue tickets or citations.

It is on private property where security guards’ responsibilities expand.

Security guards are licensed by the state’s Bureau of Security and Investigative Services and “their level of engagement is determined by the employer,” according to a bureau spokeswoman. They can acquire permits to carry guns and batons.

Property owners can establish a set of rules — “‘thou shalt nots” — and “then you enforce them to the best of your ability,” often through warnings, said John Iervolino, a co-owner and manager with Santa Rosa-based SOCO Private Security.

Iervolino’s company employs about 20 guards, including some licensed to carry concealed or exposed weapons. They work for a variety of public and private clients, including Catholic Charities, Costco and the six-block area of Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square for the Historic Railroad Square Association.

Owners can limit parking on private property, and a guard can request a vehicle be removed and towed away.

“A lot of it has to be backed by signage,” said Evan Barbier, president and founder of San Rafael-based Barbier Security Group. A guard adopts all the powers and responsibilities of the property owner and can urge people to follow the rules.

A restaurant can post a sign reserving the right to refuse service to people, an appropriate rule “as long as you’re not discriminating against people,” Barbier said.

Like anyone else, a guard can place a person under citizen’s arrest for suspected illegal behavior, such as trespassing, and then call police.

California law states that a private person may arrest another for a public offense committed or attempted in his or her presence and when the person has committed a felony, either observed or reasonably suspected.

Barbier’s company has about 100 employees and clients throughout the North Bay, including public health clinics, schools and residential complexes. Guards should carefully document violations, especially in the case of a towed vehicle, which is a liability if the tow is unreasonable.

“In the public, we really don’t have any more power than anyone else,” Barbier said. “On private property, you adopt all the powers and responsibilities of the property owner.”

Submit your questions about crime, safety and criminal justice to Staff Writer Julie Johnson at julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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