Saturday 7 February 2015

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Can store security guards search me?

Today I was coming out of a supermarket and I had a plastic bag in which there was a box of juice. In my other hand I had a gift bag. So the security guy asked me to stop so he could search me, and he also wanted the receipt. I asked him to hold the gift bag for me while I look for the receipt. I looked for the receipt but couldn't find it so I told him I cant find it, so he should give me my gift bag so I can go because with the little knowledge that I have, I don't have to be searched if I don't want to. So I asked him to give me back my gift bag so I can go but he refused and even held on tight to it, insisting that I give him the receipt. He told me that he is supposed to search people, whether they want to be searched or not.

I suggested that we go to the lady who sold me the items but he still refused and insisted on the receipt. He finally saw it in the bag which had the juice and saw that indeed I did not steal these items. My question here is what is supposed to happen by the shop door when a customer leaves with items they have paid for in that shop? Are these security guys supposed to do this to customers? I felt harassed and inconvenienced and I also feel that there is lack of education amongst some of these security guys. There is a need to address this in case the same thing happens to other customers. Even if security guys have the right to search customers, they are supposed to do so without ridiculing customers. And I asked him why he wants to search me and he couldn't even give me a clear answer. I would really appreciate if you enlighten me in this.

It’s very simple. Security guards have absolutely no right to search people. They often forget that they’re not police officers, they’re just civilians in uniforms. They have no more rights than you or I have.

All that a security guard can do is detain you if he or she has good reason to suspect that you have committed a serious offence such as theft but that’s ALL they can do. They are not allowed to search either you or your belongings unless you allow them to. Only the police can search you without your consent.

If a guard does ever stop you and demand to search your belongings you should remind them that the goods you bought (even the plastic bag which you paid for) now belong to you and that you will not permit a stranger to seize or search your belongings. You should also say that if they suspect you’ve stolen something then you’ll happily wait until the police arrive. Maybe even remind them that the police have more important things to do and they don’t like having their time wasted.

This security company should remember the case a few years ago when a woman who had a very similar experience in a supermarket took the security company to court and was later awarded P60,000, the judge explaining that this was ”considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society”.

Part of the problem is that security companies often tell their guards that they have special powers. In the court case the MD of the security company apparently told the judge that he taught his guards that they “had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers”. The judge responded by saying that the MD “did not know circumstances when a legal search could be made."

I contacted the Head Office of the supermarket concerned and they are taking this matter very seriously. You can expect feedback from them very soon.

Meanwhile let’s all stand up to security guards when they abuse us. We all know that shoplifters exist and that the money the stores lose to thieves they pass on to us, the law-abiding customers, and we have a part to play in helping stores protect themselves but that doesn’t they can think they have special powers. It’s time for them to learn this, don’t you think?

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