Police are increasingly being assisted by other officials at protests. For example, officers from the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning assist police 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.
The Victoria Police Act 2015 (Vic) designates the powers of protective service officers (PSOs). They may exercise, in the course of their duties, the same powers and responsibilities as a police officer. Like police, they have additional arrest powers provided to them under section 459 of the Crimes Act (Vic) (see Arrest, search, interrogation and your rights).
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, where someone is “caught red-handed” committing an offence. Although this includes minor (summary) offences, it does not include breaches of rules and regulations, and can only be done in circumstances where public order and safety is threatened, or there is some risk that the alleged offender may not turn up to court.
Proportionate force can be used 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)). See “Use of force in arrest” in 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.