Can a Loss Prevention Officer Interrogate or Hold a Suspect Against Their Will?
When a person is suspected of retail fraud there will likely be an encounter with the store’s security personnel. These individuals are often called Loss Prevention Officers and they are common in larger retail stores like Wal-Mart, Target Macy’s or any large store. They are not police. What rights do these private security officers have to detain and question a suspect?
They are not required to provide any type of Miranda warning
As private security officers, Loss Prevention Officers (LPO’s) are not governed by the US Constitution, and are not required to provide any type of Miranda warning when detaining or questioning an individual suspected of theft. Therefore, statements made to LPO’s who detain suspects are admissible into evidence against a defendant. At a trial or hearing in a retail fraud case, a loss prevention officer may have more latitude to testify about an incident than a police officer.
A loss prevention officer can only detain you for a reasonable period of time
Michigan law allows a Loss Prevention Officer to detain, for a reasonable period of time, a person suspected of theft or failure to pay. Such action is commonly referred to as a ‘Shopkeepers Privilege,’ and is codified in Michigan Law, MCL 338.1051. Private security officers need not have any state issued license to guard and maintain the security of a private establishment. A LPO’s authority to investigate only extends to the premises or in the immediate vicinity of the premises. Similarly, a LPO’s authority to detain an individual may only occur in the vicinity of the premises, and must be reasonable; i.e. an LPO may not use deadly force.
It is important to remember that loss prevention officers cannot detain an individual suspected of theft more than a “reasonable” amount of time. Nor can they force you to speak to them. Often times loss prevention officers will detain you and release you. If the police do not appear, or are unavailable to appear, loss prevention officers have to release you within a reasonable amount of time. LPO’s do not have the same authority to detain or question an individual as the police may have.
Stores have their own policies
Nevertheless, many stores have their own policies and procedures for their loss prevention officers. I have spoken to representatives from Macy’s, Kohl’s, Wal-Mart, and other stores, and each establishment has a unique philosophy for suspected theft. Some stores specifically instruct their loss prevention employees not to escalate a suspected theft incident. This means their loss prevention officers will not detain a suspect unless the suspect voluntarily cooperates. Other stores may take a more aggressive approach towards shoplifting and detain an individual suspected of retail fraud. Whether an individual voluntarily complies with a loss prevention officer’s request, or is detained against his will, it is important to remember a loss prevention officer is not a police officer. Therefore, a suspect need not answer any questions or sign any documents. When an individual suspected of theft is detained by a loss prevention officer, it is likely the police will be called because the store/loss prevention officers have no authority to charge anyone with retail fraud, larceny, or any other criminal offense. If the individual is charged with a crime, it is often preferable to discuss the circumstances in court rather than a custodial environment.
Have you been charged with Michigan retail fraud? Contact our office today if you have questions about store security officers, your rights and representation.