There is a belief amongst many that a person wearing a uniform, especially those in safety and security, have the authority to enforce the laws, whether national or municipal, or carry out other law enforcement tasks such as, stopping and searching, loitering, harassment and nuisance prevention, questioning members of the public on their intentions or actions, etc. Unfortunately however, this is a mistaken perception. Only sworn in law enforcement officers such as SAPS, Traffic Officers, Municipal Police Officers, etc. may perform these tasks. A security officer has no more nor less authority than any Joe Soap on the street and or in the community.
A security officer, like any citizen, may only act or effect an arrest on another person, if that security officer witnessed the commission of a crime by said person or if they are instructed to do so by a law enforcement officer, the same as a normal citizen. We do not have the authority to infringe on the rights of others, these rights, some of which are constitutional rights, such as, freedom of movement. Because someone is deemed to be suspicious by another, we do not have the authority to confront this individual and question their intentions, if this person is in a public space. Nor do we have the authority to act on behalf of someone who is not an Atlas client, should a person trespass on private property for example. Our service agreements entered into with our clients specifically authorize us to act on the behalf of our client whereas a non-client has not provided us with that authority and therefore we are not allowed to act unless we are witness to the commission of a crime on said property.
In some instances, the reporting of someone as suspicious is driven by racial profiling and with this one needs to be incredibly careful as this could very quickly lead to false accusations, defamation, etc. which in turn could lead to civil claims. For this reason it is imperative that someone who claims someone else to be suspicious does not merely state the individual is suspicious but also validates what makes the individual(s) suspicious. One needs to describe their behavior and what about it is deemed as suspicious. Someone walking down the road does not make them suspicious, they’re entitled to do so. However, someone walking down the road peering into the yard of almost every house as he is walking along does make him suspicious but this is then not because he is walking down the road but rather the act of peering into yards. Also, often someone is reported as suspicious because they “look out of place” the way someone dresses or the fact that someone remains stationary for a period of time cannot be deemed as suspicious as he / she is entitled to do so if in a public place. Their actions while doing so will determine whether or not the individual is suspicious. The laws on loitering have changed over the years. The SAPS used to be able to arrest an individual for loitering, today not even they can do anything about it anymore.
Port Elizabeth, SA