What's the liability involved with security guards?


When I wrote a story about the city of Oakland considering supplementing its police force with armed security guards, the primary argument I heard against such a thing was liability.

“There was a push by the city council to put security guards on the street because private guards are cheaper than police officers,” said Officer Jeff Thomason, public information officer for the Oakland Police Department. “But from our perspective, it’s a liability. They’re not highly trained and they might be placed in a situation where they have to use deadly force.”

I just read this article in the Boston Herald about an incident where an armed private officer shot and killed a patient who stabbed a doctor. This case seems fairly straightforward that the officer acted appropriately, but the issue of liability is still a major concern. Apparently the officer was a "special officer" employed by a private company (which remains unnamed), but was licensed through the Mass. Police. Here's the blurb from the article for more clarification:

Boston police license special officers, who are employed by private companies. To obtain a license, candidates must pass a licensing exam, according to police policy.

Special officers who want to carry a firearm are also tested on their ability to use the weapons and apply deadly force, the policy states. The testing takes place at the Boston Police Department Range.

Licensed special officers have the power of police officers to make arrests and enforce laws and ordinances within city limits. Special officers are prohibited from applying for or executing search warrants.

In the article, the officer's father confirms that he is a special officer and attended police academy training and previously held a summer job as a police officer in Provincetown.

But even if he was specially trained, if this is becomes a wrongful death suit or ends up in court, who's responsible? The police or the private company? Is this a risk police departments or municipalities are willing to take?


After reading the story of this incident, liability is the very last question that should be on anyone's mind! The whole security industry (can't call it a profession until many drastic changes take place) suffers from "liability paralysis." Boston is 110% correct in its licensing and swearing of security officers as special officers. Thats the way is should be universally! Since the officer in question used force appropriately and since he was not on duty for the police department when he made the justfied shoot, and surely no one trained him to engage in unjustified uses of deadly force, (which this wasn't) I don't see any liability arising. No wonder security has so many problems, people who suffer from liability paralysis are leading!

I couldn't agree with you more and I certainly hope no suits result from this incident. However, I don't think there's any doubt that we live in a litigious society and I think security professionals are rightfully aware and prepared to have such measures taken against them, especially when they employ armed guards (contract or proprietary). Whether that awareness leads to a paralysis or not, I can't say, but I think you're right that it shouldn't outweigh security measures.

As I read the article, the security officer is a hero. A felony assault was in progress which could have resulted in a murder. If the officer stopped and weighed the liability issues we may be commenting on a much different outcome where the victim's family could be filing a wrongful death law suit against the hospital. So what about the liability?! The officer did the right thing and saved the victim. The officer should be applauded. He apparently possessed the presence of mind and training that he could subdue the attacker and not injure the victim in the process. Again, this officer should be applauded!