At protests, police officers are increasingly being assisted by other officials. For example, officers from the Victorian Government Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning assist police officers at forest protests, and security firm personnel attend demonstrations where private property is at risk. The powers of government or quasi-government officials are specified in the relevant legislation.
Protective service officers
The Victoria Police Act 2013 (Vic) designates the powers of protective service officers. They may exercise, in the course of their duties, the same powers and responsibilities as police officers. Like police, they have additional arrest powers provided to them under section 459 of the Crimes Act (Vic) (see Chapter 3.5: Arrest, search, interrogation and your rights).
Private security guards
Private security guards are not police officers; they do not have most of the powers that police officers have. The power of arrest of private security guards is usually limited to the citizen’s arrest powers.
A citizen can only use proportionate force to prevent the commission of an indictable (serious) offence, or to assist the lawful arrest of a person suspected of committing any offence (s 462A Crimes Act (Vic)). In doing so, a citizen cannot break rules and regulations. (See ‘Use of force in arrest’ in Chapter 3.5: Arrest, search, interrogation and your rights.)
Like police, private security guards can use ‘reasonable force’ to perform their lawful functions. However, what is reasonable force for a security guard to use should be less than what is reasonable for a police officer.
The other additional power that security guards have is that which is vested in them by the owners of the private property, to protect that property. In some cases, this power may be written in legislation about the organisation, such as the Act establishing a university.
The Victorian Ombudsman can only investigate the conduct of local and state government employees. The private security industry is regulated by the Licensing Services Division of Victoria Police (email: email@example.com).
Alternatively, where you have sufficient evidence and significant injuries have been incurred, civil action against the private security firm may be appropriate.