Though State Law regulates the conduct of loss prevention officers, there are a few things that are universal.
Firstly, loss prevention officers are not the police, and are limited by which weapons they are allowed to carry and how much force they are allowed to use. However, this doesn’t mean that they are powerless. Unlike police, loss prevention officers:
Don’t have to read your rights if you are accused of shoplifting.
Are not bound by law to tell you the truth.
Can stop, question, and detain you.
For a loss prevention officer to detain a person he/she suspects of shoplifting, they MUST have probable cause, usually visual confirmation of the crime. This ability to detain, the Shopkeepers Privilege, is found in Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code §124.001 and provides:
A person who reasonably believes that another has stolen or is attempting to steal property is privileged to detain that person in a reasonable manner and for a reasonable time to investigate ownership of the property.
After huge losses, store management may pressure loss prevention officers to exercise Shopkeepers Privilege, but there are major risks if an officer becomes overzealous in its implementation: Civil Litigation.
To summarize, loss prevention officers must:
Only detain you on probable cause
A store can face a civil lawsuit for false arrest if its employees or loss prevention officer make a citizen’s arrest without probable cause to believe the suspect had stolen something. In most cases, a loss prevention officer must observe you approaching, selecting, concealing, and failing to pay for an item to support the claim of probable cause for shoplifting.
Use reasonable force
Loss prevention officers should only use reasonable force in detaining a suspect. If injury to the suspect has occurred, the officer most likely exceeded “reasonable force.” This once again makes the store liable. However, if you try to assault the officer, they can defend themselves under the self-defense doctrine.
Detain you for a reasonable amount of time
A suspect can only be detained for a reasonable period of time. Though it varies from place to place, this is usually assumed to be an hour. The officers can question a suspect during this time, but the suspect is not compelled to respond. If the police do not show within this timeframe, the suspect must be released.
If all three of these are not met a suspect may sue for false imprisonment, unlawful arrest, assault, battery, libel, or slander. Because of this many stores have their own policies.
Why? Liability. If a suspect runs away from a loss prevention officer when he/she stops, the detective cannot pursue them. Depending on which store they work for, loss prevention may not be allowed to leave the store or, in some cases, step off the sidewalk to stop them.
Running after a shoplifter is dangerous. If a suspect is armed, this can lead to a tragic scenario where either the suspect or loss prevention officer is severely injured. Also depending on the setting, innocent bystanders may be injured, casting a bad light on the officer and store. These scenarios can be avoided by simply not chasing a shoplifter.