Private security guards are often used against activists or at political events to prevent access to an area or to provide additional security.
All security guards are required by law to wear a large, visible number as identification. Take note of this number and the company they are with in case you wish to make a complaint.
Security guards and council officers generally have little more power than do private citizens. They do have the delegated property rights of their employers so that, for instance, they can act to protect property or to demand that other people leave private property (see Trespass law). There may be instances where you have to determine which is council property, which is private property, and which is state government property, if various parties try to move you on.
On Commonwealth property, Australian Protective Service officials have powers of arrest over people they reasonably suspect of having committed an offence on that property. Also, on military installations the military may be empowered to make an arrest in certain situations.
Powers of arrest
Security guards have nothing more than the power of "citizen's arrest". This power is provided by section 462A of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). Section 462A provides that “any person” who witnesses an offence occurring, or where there is immediate danger of a crime being committed, may use reasonable force to effect an arrest.
Use of force
Security guards can legally arrest you. They must inform you of the reason for arrest, and then advise the police immediately. Be aware of the restrictions that apply to the use of force by security guards - if you feel that ‘unreasonable' force has been used you can allege assault or pursue civil action. What is ‘reasonable' force will be determined by common law.
Security guards are trained to use handcuffs as a last resort where the person resists lawful arrest and cannot be restrained by other lawful means. Because security guards do not have uninhibited authority to use these, there is always room to argue the legality of their use, as incorrect use can again result in criminal prosecution or civil action.
You should always keep in mind however that private security agents are often armed and always in uniform. They do not have the same training, or the same oversight and reporting mechanisms as police officers. BE CAREFUL when dealing with private security guards.
A security guard is never allowed to search you or your property, unless you consent to it. Do not give consent to any security guard to do this. If a security guard does carry out a search without your consent, you may pursue criminal and/or civil action.
Complaints against security guards
All security guards and bouncers are licensed by the Private Agents Registry, which is administered by the Victoria Police and regulated by the Private Agents Act 1966 (Vic). All security guards are required to wear a large, visible number as identification. Take note of this number and the company they are with.
The registry investigates complaints about security guards, crowd controllers or security companies. If the registry finds that the guard has behaved in an unfair, dishonest or discreditable way, they can cancel or suspend their licence.
Send your complaint to:
You can also complain to:
- Local police
- The security firm who employs the guard
- The Victorian Ombudsman, 9613 6222 or 1800 806 314 (country callers)
- The relevant industry association. Security companies have a code of practice they must follow. Find out which association the company belongs to and make a complaint. The Australian Security Industry Association covers most companies. Phone them to check if the company is a member (02) 9906 4780
Protective Service Officers
Under the Police Regulations Act 1958, Protective Service Officers have the same powers as police officers. The Victorian Government plans to increase the number of PSO in operation, particularly around public transport.
Also see Police use of force