The importance of securing strict regulation concerning the possession and use of firearms is evident. Indeed, firearms are ‘tools of violence’ which, in the wrong hands, may have severe consequences. It is important therefore to encourage the registration of the weapons at the company level, but also to the individual responsible, so as to maintain a trace of who each weapon belongs to. Moreover, there should be adequate regulations in place to ensure that firearms are stored in secure places and that they are well controlled by the company.
The possession and use of firearms by PSC personnel in the EU varies greatly. Indeed, whilst in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, France and Netherlands firearms are prohibited for private security personnel, they are permitted by all other EU countries. However, even in those countries where the possession of firearms is permitted, the level of control or criteria needed to legally possess these weapons differ greatly. Generally speaking there are limitations on the circumstances required for the possession and on the type of weapon that can be carried.
The possession of firearms is permitted in all of the SEE States which are members of the Council of Europe. What differs is the extent of control that is exerted over the weapons. For instance, in Albania, the weapons must be registered both to the company and to the individual employee, thus ensuring accountability of the weapon at all times. This is not the case in Bosnia and Herzegovina for instance, where the weapon only has to be registered to the company. In Bulgaria, the employees of the PSC must be licensed to be able to own and carry a firearm. Croatia differentiates between lower ranking PSC personnel, for example security guards, and higher ranking PSC personnel, such as private security agents. Only the higher ranking personnel is authorised to carry weapons, and even so, the weapons must belong to the company and not be the private property of the guard. In Serbia, private security personnel are not distinguished from ordinary citizens with respect to the use or possession of firearms. However, Article 17 of the general ‘ Law on Weapons and Ammunition’ is applicable to PSCs, and stipulates that the PSC personnel entitled to possess firearms must be medically fit, trained in firearms handling and not have a criminal record.
In Russia, the law prescribes that the use of firearms is limited to self-defence, to prevent group or armed attack on guarded goods, as well as to signal or to warn suspects. In Georgia, PSCs and the governmental private property department within the ministry of the interior, do not have the right to carry firearms, however, some PSCs do offer such services.
Search and seizure powers of private security firms
Depending on the state where they operate, PSCs have various powers to conduct search or to seize individuals and property, producing a mixed picture of the situation across EU member States. In some states, the Panoramic Overview study mentions that PSCs have powers to conduct limited search and seizure, e.g., in Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Greece (only in airports) and Austria (only with the consent of the person concerned). In other states, PSC employees have no other powers than any civilian to seize and search individuals, e.g., the Netherlands, Cyprus, UK, Germany, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Finland and Spain. In other states, PSCs have special powers, for example in:
– Lithuania: to detain a suspected offender caught in the act or right after that and transfer him to the police; check the object under surveillance, that the person shows the items they are carrying, with the consent of the person concerned;
– Latvia: to arrest persons who violate the law or who have illegally entered a guarded object, as well as to check passes or other IDs;
– Estonia: to apprehend any person illegally entering a guarded object and, when apprehended, to carry out a security check on the suspected person.
In conclusion, one can state that in some EU states PSC employees have the same power as any other citizen to search and seize individuals whereas in other states PSC employees have extra powers (e.g., in Latvia, the power to arrest persons).
In the SEESAC study on PSCs in South Eastern European states, only sporadic attention is given to the power of PSC employees to search and seize suspected individuals. In Kosovo, PSC employees can make a citizen’s arrest and the law enforcement agencies have to be immediately informed. In one South Eastern European State, reports are made of arrests carried out by masked PSC personnel, in vehicles with no license plate(s).