“Guard yourself”

Against security guards. The behaviour of some security guards is getting out of control. Not only are they exceeding their powers, they are assaulting and abusing people.

Last week, we heard from a consumer who had visited a store but had not actually bought anything. As she left the store, a security guard approached her from behind demanding that she return to the store. The guard believed she had stolen something from the store. Rather than undergo further embarrassmentm, she did as she was told.

Once back in the store the guard, another woman, insisted on taking her prisoner to a changing room and then insisted that she lift up her dress to prove that she had not hidden anything under her clothing. The poor customer was then forced through the indignity of stripping to her underwear in front of this guard, finally proving that there was actually nothing hidden, nothing stolen.

After this ordeal was over and the guard had conceded that there was no cause to detain her, the victim decided to stand up for herself. She demanded to see the manager to complain about the way she had been mistreated. That is when this already unpleasant situation became bizarre. The guard’s excuse to the manager for her behaviour was to point to the victim and say “this is the one that stole shoes on Wednesday”. That is when the victim got even angrier. Quite rightly she went straight to the nearest police station. Not only had she been insulted and abused, she was now being accused of being a proven criminal.

To their credit, the police demanded to know the evidence for the guard’s claim that the victim was a previous criminal. Under pressure from the officers in blue, the guard relented. No, she said, that was not actually true, she had made that bit up.

So we have a guard who accosts innocent people, strip searches them and then makes up lies to defame them and defend her actions. We know who the real criminal is here, don’t we?

Despite being a strong woman with the courage to stand up to abuse, she was still very upset. She told us “I am an honest member of society and this incident has really upset and unsettled me, my blood pressure is high and I am now taking medication.” I think she is the victim of a crime. The first ever case we had of abuse by a guard was many years ago when a guy called us to report his 17-year old daughter’s experience. She had also been accused of stealing from a store, this time a pair of shoes that the guard suggested she had hidden down her jeans. Given that the daughter was very slim and was apparently wearing skin-tight clothing this seemed unbelievable. Nevertheless, the male security guard had insisted she strip-off her clothing in front of him.

You can imagine how her father felt and what he was tempted to do. Luckily, reason prevailed and he was able to express his understandable rage to us and then to the store. To their credit, the store was as appalled as everyone else and they apologised for the disgraceful conduct of their lecherous, perverted, sex-abuser guard.

However the tide is beginning to turn.

In May 2011, a woman went shopping in Pick N Pay at Riverwalk with her three daughters and some of their friends. As they were leaving the store, a security guard from Scorpion Security stopped her and demanded to search her handbag. Rather than asking nicely, he just grabbed the bag from her in a manner she described as “violent and physical”, searched through it and, finding nothing, handed it back to her. She claims that she felt “belittled and humiliated” by his treatment of her in front of her children and their friends, but being a strong character she decided not to take this lying down. She got angry and took Scorpion Security to court. And she won. When the case was heard in the High Court in Francistown in August 2013 the Managing Director of Scorpion Security gave evidence. He explained that he saw their job as looking after their client’s goods, but then went on to embarrass himself in front of the judge by having no idea what powers his guards had. He told the judge “that security guards could search. That they had the authority to do similar to that of Police Officers.” In his ruling, the judge said that the MD “did not know circumstances when a legal search could be made.”

The judge went on to say that: “I find that indeed the Defendants searched the Plantiff without her consent and it was unlawful. […] I accordingly grant judgment in her favour.”

It gets better. He continued:

“On the issue of damages, considering the humiliation embarrassment and impairment of her dignity as an honest member of society, I have considered that P60,000 would be sufficient solatium for her dented image in society.”

So let us make it clear, yet again. Security guards are just civilians in uniform. They do a difficult job that helps to protect us, but that does not mean they have special powers. All a security guard can do is detain you until the police arrive. Only a police officer can search you against your will.

Of course we should do our best to help stores protect themselves against thieves, but that does not mean they can treat those of us who are honest members of society as criminals.

Next time you are accosted by a security guard make sure you stand up for your rights!

If you have any consumer issues please get in touch.  Email us at [email protected], by post to P. Box 403026, Gaborone or by phone on 3904582 or fax on 3911763.  Read the Consumer Watchdog blog at consumerwatchdogbw.blogspot.com and join our Facebook group called “Consumer Watchdog Botswana”.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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