Making Arrests in Retail Security

Tony Security 1 Comment

A practical guide to making arrests for retail security operatives


I have spoken at length in previous articles about arrest being a single option among many for retail security operatives. I have also written about associated risks of false arrest and about the legal aspects of making an arrest as a security operative. In this article I want to take about the actual on the ground practical aspects of actually arresting a person. I have had this article half written for a few weeks but a query from an old colleague and a unrelated query from a follower on Facebook prompted me to finish it and publish it this week.  This will be a two-part series of articles. This week I will look at the actual act of making an arrest including risks, control measures, positioning and wording. Next week we will look at the post arrest process and the handover to Gardaí as well as the follow up work. All of the following information is my own. Its based on no other system other than what I have worked out for myself over many years of making arrests, researching the subject and investigating cases that have gone wrong. In my opinion its all good practice and I will explain why as I go through. However, feel free to disagree and do your own thing. As long as you can stand behind your reasoning safely and legally afterwards.


Preparation when making arrests is key. Well prepared and planned arrests (like most others in the security industry) usually go well. Poorly prepared arrests can be gotten away with every now and again, but they always go wrong eventually. How many times have you seen a security person running out of a store shouting for assistance into his/her radio. The potential shoplifter (already under stress from committing the crime) looks behind them and they see the security operative running full speed towards them, shouting loudly and carrying a radio. Flight or flight kicks in and they see open space in front of them. Easy option ‘RUN’. The security operative now full of adrenaline and not thinking straight reacts and gives chase. They catch the shoplifter with a well-timed rugby tackle and a scuffle starts. The security support from the radio calls arrives and they observe their colleague on the ground wrestling. They naturally join in and the shoplifter is restrained and dragged kicking and screaming into the store. The public stand by shaking their head and with video phones in hand. All that was missing was a little preparation. Could the security operative have called for support to the exit earlier? Could they have ran commentary and planned an arrest over the radio? Could earlier planning have controlled the situation better? In most cases I’ve been involved in the answer is yes to all of these questions.

Planning is key and all of the below should be checked off while observing the theft.

  1. Support – Who, where and how soon
  2. Equipment- Radio, notebook, keys and phone
  3. Location – Where and how safe
  4. Contingency- What if it all goes horribly wrong?

Risks and Controls

Making arrests in itself is an inherently risky process. A security operative put themselves in a position where they are at close proximity to a person who has committed a crime and is facing punishment for that crime if caught. There are many obvious risks associated with this type of process. There are also risk controls that security teams can employ to reduce these risks. When it comes to making arrests the safety of the security operative always takes priority over the value of goods taken. If it’s not safe, then don’t arrest. I had this very discussion with a very experienced loss prevention person yesterday. His view matched with mine and his exact words were “if you have enough evidence to make an arrest then you have enough evidence to call the Gardaí”. I have set out below some of the more common risks and some risk controls that should be adhered to for all incidents of arrest. It is not meant to be a risk assessment and is not detailed enough to be one but can be used as a guideline.

Risk Control Measures
Violence and personal injury Always have a minimum of two people present when making an arrest.

Option to walk way

Disengagement from assault or physical intervention training

Two-way radio communication between security (or other people involved such as managers)

Safe holding room


Weapons, needles or other sharps Always have a minimum of two people present when making an arrest.

Option to walk way

Disengagement from assault or physical intervention training

Maintain safe distance and hands-off approach

Appropriate PPE including gloves

Safe holding room

Sharps disposal method

Groups or multiple offenders DO NOT ARREST (discussed next week)

Disengagement from assault or physical intervention training

Accusations made against security staff Always have a minimum of two people present when making an arrest.

Arrest procedure training

Scripted arrest wording

Bio hazards or other hygiene risks Maintain safe distance and hands-off approach

Appropriate PPE including gloves

Safe holding area


This list is not exhaustive and lot more risks may emerge for your location during a risk assessment. These are some of the more common ones however.

The Approach

The highest risk part of the arrest process is the initial approach to the offender. There are so many variables to consider in terms of situational awareness, and dynamic risk assessment (another article altogether). There are certain principles that I like to apply. Again, these aren’t scientifically proven ideas, but they are taken from many years of experience and research into the subject. They work for me and I can explain why. They may not work for you. Find what works for you and research the legality and safety aspects of that so you can stand behind it.

Firstly it is important to always make the initial engagement from in front of the offender. When leaving the store after the offender this will mean getting to the front of the offender as soon as possible or getting the offender turned. Consider what is going through the persons head at this time. An adrenaline rush from having committed the theft and a high of apparently escaping. Then all of a sudden, the security operative has approached them.  Adrenaline spikes and the ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicks in. This is the critical moment for the security operative.

The role of the support person

If you are lucky then you are part of a security team and have a support person who is also a trained security operative and can provide complete support during the arrest. I am however conscious that this isn’t always the case and you may be supported by a store manager, supervisor or assistant who isn’t trained and you must be aware of this fact. I want to clarify the role of the support person here. This person’s role is to support. It involves watching the lead security operatives back, acting as a visual deterrence to violence and summoning help in an emergency. They should not be interacting or speaking to the offender unless necessary.


Proxemics is the understanding and management of space. It is vital in the approach. I mentioned above that the security operative should attempt to get to the front of the offender. In front meaning into the visual eye line of the offender before making contact. I DO NOT mean directly in front of the person and blocking their path. The images below will illustrate my point here in a pretty basic way.

Image 1: When standing directly in front of the offender there are a number of issues. Firstly, the security operative has blocked their own exit route back to the store. Secondly, they have restricted the offenders flight option by completely blocking their path and forcing them to choose the ‘fight’ option. Thirdly, if the offender does choose the ‘fight’ option then the security operative has taken a position where they can be struck with both arms, legs and head of the offender as well as any incidental weapons they may be carrying.

Image 2: In the second image you will see my recommended positions. The security operative has taken up position in form of the offender but offset to one side. The support person is in view of the offender but also offset. Which side you chose to approach from will be situational and personally dependent. My personal preference is to go to the side that the offender holds the stolen goods on, particularly if they are in a bag. This leaves me in a position if the offender tries to run that I can choose to grab the bag as they run if appropriate. In this position you will see that the security operative has given themselves options to both retreat to the store or block the offenders path if necessary. The same is true for the support person.

The offender is concentrated on the security staff, but a flight option has been left should they choose to run. Some people will question this approach but if I’m going to trigger a fight or flight response I firmly believe that the flight option is the one I want them to choose. In my experience many offenders will drop the goods and run anyway.

Finally, in this position, if the offender chooses to fight the security operative has restricted the use of one side of the body and is in a better position to apply some form of restrictive technique or disengage to safety.


I’m aware that this would be much easier to show in video format and I will do a video on the subject once I can drum up a couple of volunteers and a camera.


The actual wording of the arrest is the next step. Over the years I have seen many traditional phrases such as “Excuse me. I am the security officer from the store you have just left. I believe there may be a problem with your purchase Please accompany me back to the store to discuss this”. Phrases such as this are both legally flawed and silly. I have been involved in  over a thousand arrests and I have never once used this phrase or any like it. Firstly, because by the time you are halfway through the phrase you will have been punched in the face or the offender will have fled. Secondly, because it is legally flawed. We do not have detention short of arrest in this country. I have written about this before. Under Section 4 of the Criminal Law Act 1997 we ‘arrest’ the person and hold them for the Gardaí. If we arrest a person, they should be told that they have been arrested and why. This is a fundamental principle of our justice system and is also included as a basic human right in the Human Rights Act. My personal preference is;

“I am the security officer from XYZ store. You are arrested for theft. Please return to the store with me. “

Short, effective, assertive and clear. There are reasons for this phrasing. Firstly, I identify myself clearly to them even if in a uniform. I do this not just for them but for the overall audience. Telling them they have been arrested and for what is a legal requirement and it gives us the right to hold that person there for Gardaí as a lawful arrest. Its also clear that while we can hold the person here for Gardaí I have no power to compel them to return to the store hence the use of the word ‘please’. I will discuss the decision-making process of whether to bring the person back into the store next week but for this week we will assume they are non-violent.

Should they refuse to return to the store I generally take the approach of telling them that it would save them embarrassment of being arrested in the street if we could return to the office. Should they still wish to continue to wait in the street for Gardaí then that’s their choice.

Should the person choose to run at this point it becomes more of a  personal ability decision. The law says we may use reasonable force to complete a lawful arrest. However, it may not be safe or suitable to do so. The important thing to remember is that if they do run and you can’t block them then do not give chase. Your employer will not thank you for the resulting civil case if the offender runs out in front of a car or knocks over a pedestrian while being chased by you. Its only stock at the end of the day.



I’m going to leave it there for this week. I’m already over 2000 words and I don’t want to bore you, but it is an important subject. I’ll finish this off next week by talking about some of the variables that occur, the decision to return to the store and the post arrest process and handover to Gardaí. As always, your comments, queries and input are greatly appreciated. Take some time to go through this and consider how you do things and if it fits with what I’m saying legally and technically. If you are a small company or retailer who needs their procedure or risk assessment reviewed feel free to get in touch at any stage.

Comments 1

  1. Hi All
    I operated the Dublin Crimewatch – Retail Radio Communication System in the Dublin city centre since 1995 where our services are availed of by many retail businesses and retail security providers.

    Dublin Crimewatch is a Asset Protection & Loss Prevention agency which creates an inter-link service between the Retail Businesses, The Police Service ( An Garda Siochana ) The Emergency Services, The Irish Banking Institutions, The Retail Business Associations & Groups.

    Our prime function is to assist our customers in the prevention of stock loss by Fraud, Theft or Criminal Damage and report Anti Social Behaviour where the Health & Safety of both Staff & Customers may be at risk

    For further details please visit our website on, or email us on,

    Kind Regards

    Peter Murrayhill M.Sec.I.I
    Managing Director

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