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SC Attorney General: Private guards have no more arrest authority than average Joe

Private security guards such as the ones who are now the only security at Chester County schools have no more arrest authority than anyone else, according to an opinion from the S.C. Attorney General’s Office.

The S.C. Sheriff’s Association asked for the opinion in response to decisions made by schools to hire security guards instead of paying for resource police officers.

“When a properly licensed security guard is protecting public property, he or she does not possess the additional powers of arrest ... and only has the authority of a private citizen,” the opinion released last month states.

Any citizen has basic, but few, arrest powers, the opinion states.

The decision in April by Chester County schools to drop county deputies for private guards in an effort to have a guard in each school was met by opposition from Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, who had four deputies working the school district’s nine campuses and said safety of staff and children is always the first priority.

“The opinion is clear – these security guards the schools hired have no more arrest powers than the average citizen,” Underwood said. “Is that real security?”

But school district officials wanted an armed presence at each school – Underwood asked county leaders for more deputies but was rebuffed – so the district chose guards. The district has said the private guards – employed by Defender Services of Columbia and licensed by the State Law Enforcement Division, but who are not police officers – are armed and have arrest powers.

Since the new school year started Monday, it does not appear any arrests have been made on school grounds, deputies said.

School district officials did not return calls seeking more information on the attorney general opinion.

There is concern over duplicated services and safety, said Jarrod Bruder, executive director of the S.C. Sheriff’s Association. Sheriffs believe child safety comes first and that safety is best offered by certified law enforcement officers, Bruder said.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065

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