Making Arrests in Retail Security- Part 2

Tony Security 3 Comments

Retail arrest procedures variables and decision making.

It’s happened again with this article. What started off as a two-part series is going to turn into a 3 part. Welcome to part 2. Last week we looked at the basic principles of making an arrest. We discussed the risks and the safety measures. We also looked at the approach and the wording of the actual arrest. This week as promised is a follow up to that article. I had been asked a number of questions following last week’s article and the response has been excellent. In this week’s I’m going to cover some of the variables that can occur during an arrest and the decision-making process outside the store. Next week I will cover the post arrest process and what should happen back in the store. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. I’m constantly learning and evolving the way I do and teach things based on new information and I’m never going to tell you that my way is absolute.




Wouldn’t  it be nice if every person we needed to arrest was similar in size, gender, age and language to us and they all complied as soon as we approached them. It would make life so much easier, but it isn’t a reality. The truth is that while most arrests go perfectly fine and there are no issues we do inevitably come across variables which can complicate things and mean we have to introduce some additional control measures. Some example of this include making arrests on people of the opposite gender, children, groups or those who present an increased risk of violence.



In the Irish security industry over 90% of licenced operatives are male. This is not the case when it comes to offenders. In my experience it is skewed about  70/30 females  in terms of offenders but that could be due to the places I have worked. Legally speaking Irish law makes no distinction between men and women when it comes to the subject of theft, arrest or even reasonable force. However, we all know that in reality the general public does. This is why trained, and competent female security operatives are a great asset. Based on statistics though we can assume that we would not have the use of a trained female security operative to make the arrest or even support the arrest in the majority of cases when we need to make such an arrest. So, we need to introduce some more control measures to protect ourselves and the store. Firstly, it is essential to have a female member of staff present. This is not a legal requirement but a failure to do so can leave both the security operative open to spurious claims of assault among many other things and leave open the possibility of members of the public attempting to intervene. Its always a good idea to have identified responsible members of staff that can be asked to act as a witness and provide them with a briefing or training in advance on what is required. It is important to remember that you are responsible for the safety of any staff member you ask to assist you, so you need to be crystal clear that they are to act in a witness capacity only and are not to intervene in any way. The female staff member should remain with the offender from the point of arrest to the point where they are handed over to the Gardai


I’ve written before about relevant law regarding the arrest and to mention of children. You can read it here in the previous article. If you consider the risk associated with the arrest and ongoing detention of children in terms of safeguarding and child protection I was advise that a deterrence policy is best. If an arrest is absolutely necessary, then all of the safeguards described above for male security operatives dealing with female shoplifters should take. This applies regardless of the gender of the child but only applies of it is safe to do so. For example, if I have a 6-foot-tall, 16 stone male youth in the holding room then it may not be safe to invite a female member of staff to witness and we may have to suffice with two males and a female standing outside the room. I also advise that all security operatives should take the free Children First child protection training offered by many charities.



If we work off the general safety rule that we require one more on our team than there is on their team then dealing with multiple offenders causes obvious problems. Firstly, the arrest itself can be risky as multiple offenders need to be informed that they have been arrested simultaneously and some of the group may not be in possession of any stolen merchandise. Once again, my advice is deterrence as a policy and arrest as a last resort. If an arrest is required, then my advice is to detain the group outside and do not return to the store. Consider the safety aspect of escorting 2 to 3 offenders back through the store and potential risks of a large scale issue if they decide to run or fight on the return journey.  If you consider the space and safety implications of an average holding room with a group of 2 or 3 offenders. Most holding rooms or offices are small spaces. If you have 2 offenders, then you need a minimum of 3 on our team. That’s 5 people in a small room for a period of time. If it goes to 3 offenders, then the total goes to 7 people in the room. In my opinion any more than 2 offenders are unsafe to return to the store. Even with detention outside the store the principle should be that it becomes unsafe then the focus changes from detention to recovery (I’ll talk about this later principle later).


Lone worker

This is really simple. Making an arrest IS NOT A LONE WORKING TASK. This cant be emphasised enough. Arrest should never, ever be made alone. The safety and liability risks are just too great for the security operative, the employer and even the offender. Now before anybody’s ego gets bruised I’m not saying that you aren’t capable of making an arrest on your own. I’m saying you shouldnt be doing it because it isn’t worth the risk. Arrest should always have a witness at the least and a fully trained support person if possible. For the supervisors, managers and employers out there this is important. If you have a client that wont commit staff or mangers as witnesses to an arrest, then you need to be quite clear with them that your security staff will be acting in a deterrence capacity only and will not be making arrests. I don’t see any way that any safe working policy, procedure or risk assessment could say any different.



Ok let’s be clear here. No Rambo stuff and no macho bullshit. If there is even a hint when in observation that a person maybe in possession of a weapon, then DO NOT ARREST. Stay where you are and call the Gardaí. Tell them what you see and request support. If the person leaves with the stock, then sit back and give thanks that you averted a potentially dangerous situation for both you and every other person in the store.


Returning to store

The decision to return to the store is not always automatic. I think that for many years it has been drilled into us that we must always return to the store. There are some real flaws in that approach in my opinion. Any decision to return to the store should be taken following a dynamic risk assessment by the security operative. There will be many times when the safest place to detain the person for Gardaí is outside of the store. There could be a range of factors involved here including; safety risks to the security operative inside or outside of the store as well as the safety of customers within the store. There might also be hygiene or illness concerns around the offender which might make it inappropriate for security operatives to remain in an enclosed space with the offender for a period of time. The moral of the story is that there is no 100% right decision. No policy or procedure should be in place dictating that the security operative should either always return the offender to the store or never return the offender to the store.

Arrest v Recovery options

I have written about the legal issues with recovery before. In Irish law once an arrest has bee carried out then the offender should be detained and handed over to Gardaí as soon as is practicable. Otherwise it is not a lawful arrest. The arrest has happened as soon as the security operative steps in front of the offender and (in the mind of the offender) prevents them from leaving.  Security operatives have no power to de-arrest a person. A few years back when writing policies for arrest procedure I teased this subject out with a solicitor and a barrister. We came up with some exceptions to this in limited cases. An example might be where a security operative arrests a person but due to the actions of the offender or others (his/her friends) it becomes unsafe to continue with the arrest then the recovery of goods becomes the next priority. This course of action is covered in the Non-fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997 where the justifiable use of reasonable force is allowed to protect the goods of another person (the employer) from theft. This is a rare circumstance which might occur inside or outside of the store. The person who has been arrested becomes violent and the security operative makes the decision that it is safer for both parties (bearing in mind overall duty of care) to not continue with the arrest. They may attempt to recover the goods or simply let the person leave. Both of which are legally justifiable.

What is not covered in law is a security operative who makes an arrest with a compliant offender, return to the store and then due to minor circumstances decides not to proceed with handing them over to Gardaí. These minor circumstances might include the low value of the items taken or the impending end of the security operatives shift. Regardless of the excuse there is no basis in law for recovery only in this circumstance and the failure to hand the offender over to Gardaí can result in issues later. While I have never heard of an offender taking a later false arrest claim based on a failure to hand over to Gardaí it is possible and there is a plausible excuse of ‘if they were so sure I stole it why didn’t they call the Gardaí’. Let’s take a more serious scenario though. An offender is arrested and released because the security operative recovers the goods and wishes to go to lunch. That offender then goes onto commit another crime and injures somebody the process. That third party (could be a security person in another store) could potentially have a claim.



I will leave it there for this week. This topic has a lot of important areas in it to be addressed and I really think I could do a ten-part series on it if I don’t control myself. I have really only touched the tip of the iceberg with arrest variables. I could go on for hours with incidents I have been involved in or worked in involving variables such as mental health difficulties, special needs, animals. There are just so many with a limited amount of your time I want to take up each week. Next week we will talk about the post arrest process back in the store and handover to Gardaí. As always questions, comments and feedback are welcome. Until next week :


Comments 3

  1. Hi Tony,
    Well done on your articles very informative, you might consider expanding this topic to include the folk:

    – Detained shoplifters with very
    young children (0-2)yrs

    – General female store staffs
    right to refuse to act as a

    – Detained shoplifter taking ill,
    passing out etc

    1. Tony O Brien Post
      1. Hi Tony,
        Is there a maximum arrest “detention period “while waiting of Gardai to arrive.
        Some times the Gardai are stretched and may not respond for hours..

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