Making arrests in retail security – Part 3

Tony Security Leave a Comment

The post arrest procedure

Finally, we get to the third and final part of this series on arrest procedure. The feedback on Part 1 and Part 2 has been great and there have been some great comments about new information people have gotten from them and some crazy practices being encouraged by employees and employers when it comes to making arrests. This week we are going to talk about probably the highest risk area for security operatives. That’s the post arrest area where we are in a (usually) confined room with an offender for a period of time while waiting for the Gardaí. We will look at safe procedures for escorting and detaining a person for the Gardaí as well as the handover process to the Gardaí . As always don’t just take my word for it but work out your own way. As long as you can stand behind it safely and legally go for it.

The walk

Walking back to the store with a (seemingly) compliant offender may seem straightforward but it carries its own risks. If we think about this from the offender’s perspective there’s a lot going on here. They are now under stress and fight or flight is in overdrive. They are in a relatively open space with 2 security operatives (or at least one and a witness) in close proximity. Flight is a natural human reaction in this type of situation This is why I stress the importance of positioning and communication again.

The lead security operative should always be positioned in an offset position just behind and to the side of the offender. They should be within arm’s reach and be constantly communicating with the offender. If the offender is carrying a bag I tend to walk on that side. This hinders the bag being swung at me as well as giving me the option of recovering the bag if the offender makes a run for freedom.

Some people won’t agree with me on the next point, but I generally want the support person ahead of the offender and walking sideways so that they can look towards us. Some prefer the support person behind the offender as well but I’m not a fan of this. Having two people walk behind you on either side can make a person very nervous and it only tends to get messy if the offender turns and has two targets to aim at in close proximity and a blocked escape route. With the support person in front they can lead the way and the lead security operative can encourage the offender to follow and focus on the support person. It also puts the lead person in a position to either block, restrain or allow the subject to leave in the event of an escalation.

The holding room

Ideally, we would like to have a dedicated holding room to return to with the offender. Larger retailers with dedicated security/LP teams should always be encouraged to dedicate a specific room for holding shoplifters while awaiting the Gardaí. Holding rooms should be laid out and equipped for safety. I have a specification I use for setting up holding rooms which I can give to anybody who requests it.

If you don’t have a dedicated holding room, then a room or office should be designated for use as a holding room. The room should be risk assessed in advance and at a minimum meet the following criteria:
1. Safety: No obvious sharp edges, potential weapons (such as scissors etc) lying around.
2. Security: Door opens freely, well lit, cctv coverage and panic alarm. No desks or movable furniture.
3. Suitability: Enough room for a minimum of 4 people 2x security, offender and a Garda) to stay comfortably and safety for a period of time.
If you can’t find a room to meet these criteria, then it’s probably safer to detain offenders outside the store as a policy.


Post Arrest

Once back in the holding room I always start by offering the offender a seat. Of course, I can’t force them to sit but it’s always preferable from a safety perspective to have them seated. I usually deal with resistance to sitting with a comment like “we have a process to get through and I can’t start that process until you’re seated” to encourage them. If they still refuse to take a seat, then we carry on but both myself and my support need to be more alert.

I always stay close to the door but not blocking the doorway and I will position the support person on the other side (again not blocking the doorway). If the holding room door doesn’t lead back to the sales floor, then I try to leave the door open. This is for two reasons.

1. So, I can get out quicker if things go bad
2. So, the person can see an exit. Again, if there is a choice between fight or flight going on in their head I want them concentrating on flight first.

Some won’t agree with me on this, but it works for me. I will try to maintain a safe distance all of the time so that I can observe the body language of the offender with enough distance to respond safely to changes in demeanour. Its also important to be aware of positioning so that you aren’t blocking the CCTV cameras view of the offender.
Once the offender is seated the post arrest process can begin. When it comes to calling the gardai I have always found it easier to have another person call the Gardaí. A coded phone call to the other person with the right details is important. An example of what can used is below:

“Can you call Mr Brown and let him know that we have a male detained here with a large/small quantity of stolen goods and I would like him to come to the security office. Please confirm to me when you called him.”

Seeing a security operative on the phone to Gardaí can cause further stress to the offender which may provoke a response. This approach isn’t about not stressing the offender its about not provoking them to a fight response.
Once the call to Gardaí is made its time to explain to the person what the process is. I generally go back to the beginning with the following process.

• You are in here because we have witnessed you committing theft from the store and we have arrested you for this.
• We have CCTV evidence of you placing items in your bag/pocket/jacket and leaving without paying.
• We have reported this to the Gardaí and we are now waiting for them. You are not free to leave until they arrive.

Don’t ask the person to remove/return the item. Leave it exactly where it is for the Gardaí to find when they arrive. If they remove the item, ask them to place it on the floor in front of them and in view of CCTV. If they have the items in a bag, ask them to leave the bag next to them. Don’t search the bag or empty the bag.

Duty of care and requests

Remember that while the person is detained in the store and by default the security operatives are responsible for their safety and wellbeing. The important thing to stress is that we need to do what is reasonable to ensure their safety. Reasonable being the key word here. We don’t have to go overboard either. Some issues which commonly arise.
Water: There is no magic human right to a drink of water as is commonly put out there. We are detaining the person for a short time and nobody will die of thirst. However, if it is reasonable to give them a drink then by all means do so I have in the past and wouldn’t ever refuse as long as it was safe to do so. Use a soft plastic cup and never give them a bottle.
Toilet: Once again. No magic right. However, it is reasonable then why not? As long as you don’t believe they will remove evidence and they are escorted by a person of the same gender. On the flip side you can absolutely refuse to do so for the short period until the Gardaí arrive if you do believe they will remove evidence.
Phone call: If an offender attempts to use the phone or answer the phone you can ask them to stop. However, you have no legal right to stop them or to take their phone away. Could they be using it to summon help and have friends arrive to your store? Of course, they could but its rare and if you think it’s likely why would you bring them back to the store in the first place. It could also be something as simple as finding somebody to collect their kid from school because they have been unexpectedly arrested.
Medication: In an emergency situation medication may need to be taken by the offender. Ideally, we would like to avoid this but again we have no legal right to prevent a person from consuming any medication unless we can say that we had a reasonable fear that they were attempting to harm themselves by taking it and this would be quite rare. If mediation is taken by the person a note should be taken of the time it was taken and any comments made by the person about taking it. This should be relayed to the Gardaí when they arrive.
Feeding of babies or children: If you arrest an offender with infants or small children and decide to return to the store with them you also bear a duty of care for those children, this is a very large responsibility considering that the children haven’t done anything wrong in most cases. Of course, if babies or young children need to be fed this takes precedence over whatever offence has happened and you should oblige.

Recording details

My thoughts on this subject have evolved over the years and my practice has changed in line with changes in regulations and experience. Obviously recording the details of the offence are important. The usual DDTP headings as well as your witness details and details of the location of the arrest etc for a report later. A physical description of the offender should be noted also. Then we get to the contentious issue of personal data. I used to insist on asking and recording the name, address and date of birth/age of the offender. In recent years though and in light of GDPR etc there is also a counter argument to doing so. Firstly, we have no legal right to ask for it. Some will argue that we have legitimate interest in knowing it for our records but do we really? We have already gathered the necessary personal data of the person (CCTV) that we need to prosecute the crime so why do we need these details. I would hope that by now many retailers will have taken a look at this and started to update their report forms to reflect. If you do decide to take these personal details and tanager then to a report then bear in mind that the data subject (offender) has to be told why you are recording them, where they will be held, who they will be shared with, how long they will be held, who will have access and how they will be destroyed. They can also request access to this data at any point and this has to be given. Is it really worth the hassle and the risk of a loss of data which could result in an offender taking a DP case against a retailer once people become more aware of their rights? Some may decide it is and some may decide not. Whichever you decide you must know the risks.

Handing over to Gardaí

We all know that Garda resources are strained and that is a reality that we have to live with. When we make the decision to arrest instead of deterring we need to accept the fact that it may come at the cost of a substantial period of time where two staff are being used in a holding room waiting for Gardaí. I’ve spoken at length on this in other articles. Once the person has been arrested there is no option to de-arrest unless it is unsafe to continue to detain. When the Gardaí receive a call from retail security operatives who have a person detained for theft it is never top of their priorities. This is because it’s a property crime and the person has already been detained and isn’t going anywhere. Who could blame them really? When they do arrive the lead security operative should introduce themselves to the Garda and explain what they have seen. Try to use ASCONE or similar in your explanation as it answers all of the questions that the Gardai require. Tell them if you have CCTV and where you believe the goods are hidden. Also let them know the time you made the arrest and record the time that they have arrived at. The Gardaí will most likely want to record your name and contact details as a witness. I always find it useful to have these written down on a card or post -it rather than saying it out loud in front of the offender. Once the Gardaí retrieve the item they will require a receipt to the value of the item. Some Gardaí will take the item with them as evidence and others will ask you to retain the item for evidence. If the Gardaí take the item record this in your notes as well. Once the Gardaí leave then immediately retain the CCTV footage of the incident and begin your report.


So, I have finally gotten to the end of this 3-part series. I still feel like there is so much more that I haven’t even touched on in this area and if the retail guys out there reading this want more coverage of certain topics then please write in and Ill try get them covered. I’ll finish by going back to the start of this series if that makes sense. Arrest is an option for dealing with theft but its just one option and its one that carries a certain degree of risk. If you (and by extension your employer) are willing to accept that risk, then it is a great tool to possess. However, if you are going to make arrests it’s important that you first arm yourself with the correct knowledge and skills to do it properly. Take some time to research and discuss with your team what the legal and safety arrangements are in your store and prepare properly for arrests. Just because you have gotten away with making it up as you go along so far doesn’t mean your luck will always hold. None of this information will matter as long as your luck holds but when your sitting in a hospital bed or a witness box you might just wish you had taken the subject more seriously.


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