Security guard

A security guard is a private person who is employed to protect property and people. Usually security guards are uniformed and act to protect property by observing (either directly, through patrols, or by watching alarm systems or video cameras) for signs of crime, fire or disorder; then reporting any incidents to their client, employer and emergency services as appropriate.


Functions and duties

The security guard motto is to "observe and report." Contrary to popular belief, security guards are not normally expected to make arrests or otherwise act as police officers. However, security guards do enforce company rules and can act (as would any other person) if necessary to protect lives or property. Security guards are often trained to operate emergency equipment, perform first aid, take accurate notes and write effective reports, and perform other tasks as required by the property they are protecting.

One major economic justification for security guards is that insurance companies (particularly fire insurance carriers) will give substantial rate discounts to sites which have a 24-hour presence. This is because having a security guard on site increases the odds that any fire will be reported to the local fire department before a total loss occurs. Also, the presence of security guards (particularly in combination with effective security procedures) tends to diminish "shrinkage," theft, employee misconduct and safety rule violations, or even sabotage.

Security guards also perform access control at building entrances and vehicle gates by ensuring that employees and visitors display proper passes or identification before entering the facility. Security guards are often called upon to respond to minor emergencies (lost persons, lockouts, dead vehicle batteries, etc.) and to assist in serious emergencies by guiding emergency responders to the scene of the incident and documenting what happened on an incident report.

Although security guards are a distinct type of personnel from either police officers or the military, in the United States a very high proportion of security personnel, including most senior management personnel, are either former or retired members of one of both services. Many security guards who don't fit this profile (young people in particular) use the job as a springboard into a police career.

Types of security personnel and companies

Security guards are classified as either of the following

  • "in-house" (i.e. employed by the same company or organisation they protect, such as a mall or a theme park) or
  • "contract," working for a private security company which protects many locations.

Some large contract private security companies in the United States have included Pinkerton and Burns (since superseded by Securitas), Wackenhut, Allied-Barton, Guardsmark, and U.S. Security Associates (a/k/a Outsource Partners).

Industry terms for security guards include: guards, agents, watchmen, officers, safety patrol. Other job titles in the security industry include dispatcher, receptionist, driver, supervisor, alarm responder, armed security officer, and manager.


Most U.S. states and counties require a license to work as a security guard. This license may include a criminal background check and/or training requirements. Most security guards do not carry weapons and have only the same powers of arrest as a private citizen, a "private person" arrest or "citizen's arrest." If weapons are carried, additional permits and training are usually required. Normally armed security guards are used (in the USA) to protect sensitive sites such as government and military installations, banks or other financial institutions, and nuclear power plants. Armed private security is much rarer in Europe and other developed countries. In developing countries (with host country permission) armed security composed mostly of ex-military personnel is often used to protect corporate assets, particularly in war-torn regions.

Security guards and the police

Security guards are not police officers but are often confused with them due to similar uniforms and behaviors, especially on private property.

Some jurisdictions do commission or deputize security guards and give them limited additional powers, particularly when employed in protecting public property such as mass transit stations. This is a special case that is often unique to a particular jurisdiction or locale.

Some security officers with police powers, typically employed directly by governmental agencies, are called security police. Typically these are police whose duties primarily involve the security of a government installation, and are also a special case.

Some security guards, particularly in hazardous jobs such as bodyguard work and bouncers outside nightclubs, are off-duty police officers (although in some countries, including the United Kingdom, it is illegal for police officers to take private security work).

Except in these special cases, a security guard who misrepresents themselves as police is committing a felony crime. The vast majority of security guards are neither security police nor commissioned with powers above those of any private citizen.


The vigiles were Roman soldiers assigned to guard the city of Rome, often credited as the origin of both security personnel and police. There have been night watchmen since at least the Middle Ages in Europe; walled cities of ancient times also had watchmen.

It was a security guard, Frank Wills, who detected the Watergate burglars, ultimately leading to the resignation of Richard M. Nixon as President of the United States.

Derogatory terms for security guards include rent-a-cops and imitation bacon (after the derogatory slang "pig" for "policeman"). Some people do not like security guards because their duties include enforcing rules and serving as a symbol of authority. Others believe that security guards are "wanna-be" or would-be police officers, or have had bad experiences with security guards in the past. In recent years many private security companies have tried to make the term "security officer" standard for this occupation, feeling the term "guard" to be somewhat demeaning. (This is similar to the movement to redesignate "prison guards" as "prison officers", "correctional officers" or "corrections officers".)


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