BULLET BRIEF: Do I have to stop for unarmed store security officers?
Many people believe that unarmed store security officers have no authority to detain persons for retail theft (shoplifting). Consequently, these security officers are known by many derogatory names such as "mall cops" and "rent-a-cops. It is entirely untrue, though, the store security has no legal authority to detail a person reasonably suspected of retail theft (shoplifting). Resisting the attempts of store security to detain can have dire criminal consequences.
Sec. 943.50(3) Wis. Stats., provides that, "A merchant or service provider, a merchant's or service provider's adult employee or a merchant's or service provider's security agent who has reasonable cause for believing that a person has violated this section in his or her presence may detain, within or at the merchant's or service provider's place of business where the suspected violation took place, the person in a reasonable manner for a reasonable length of time to deliver the person to a peace officer, or to his or her parent or guardian in the case of a minor. The detained person must be promptly informed of the purpose for the detention and be permitted to make phone calls, but he or she shall not be interrogated or searched against his or her will before the arrival of a peace officer who may conduct a lawful interrogation of the accused person. The merchant or service provider, merchant's or service provider's adult employee or merchant's or service provider's security agent may release the detained person before the arrival of a peace officer or parent or guardian. Any merchant or service provider, merchant's or service provider's adult employee or merchant's or service provider's security agent who acts in good faith in any act authorized under this section is immune from civil or criminal liability for those acts."
Therefore, if you are approached by a security officer, the best course is to comply. Under no circumstances should you direct any force toward the security officer. By doing so, you may unwittingly convert a misdemeanor offense into the serious felony offense of robbery. A person commits robbery if he or she steals from another by use, or by the threat of use, of force. In robbery prosecutions, the "asportation", or the taking and carrying away of the property, is an element of the offense. Thus, if a person is in the process of retail theft but then directs force at a security guard who is attempting to detain the person, the crime has now become felony robbery. Even the threat of the use of force may convert a retail theft into a robbery. Therefore, when approached by a security officer under suspicion of retail theft, it is a profoundly bad idea to even pretend that you are going to attack the officer.