#24 SSS Tips | Security Searches

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"Security is not a product but a process"

– Bruce Schneier

Routine security searches are very effect tools used by security personnel in an effort to combat theft. The need for such searches arises from the suspicion, by security, that the person being searched has unauthorised items in their possession.

Before any security searches can take place, security personnel must give fair warning of the need to conduct such searches and seek the consent (permission) of the person being searched.

When searching a bag, it is usually a quick look into the handbag / backpack not an opportunity to open every pouch and rummage through personal belongings. The idea is to try and identify unauthorised items at a glance. If they are found, then the person can be detained and further searching and investigation can be conducted by the SAPS once they arrive.

Body searches should not be conducted simply because security personnel feel that the person being searched “looks suspicious”. They should rather, unless part of a normal and routine search process, be conducted when there are good grounds (based on what security has seen and / or heard) to suspect that the person is in possession of unauthorised items. The person has a right to be told why they need to be searched, in a language they understand.

When proceeding with body searches, it is important to remember that this is generally not conducted in public (airport security being one of the few exceptions to this rule). A person can insist that the search take place in a private room and that they have a witness, of their choosing, be present during the entire process. The person should then be escorted by security personnel to a private room, with their witness, and then a properly conducted search can take place. Security personnel must take note that it is not legally permissible (or even ethically okay) to touch a person’s body without first obtaining their proper consent and / or without having fair reason to do so.


This was not the case in an incident that took place in Durban in 2017. A female customer was subjected to an invasion of her privacy when a full (non-consensual) body search was conducted on her person, at a local retail store. You can read more on this case at the East Coast Radio website.

Remember, if a person refuses to be searched, security retains the right to refuse them entry to a site and / or to call the SAPS if they reasonably suspect the person of having unauthorised items in their possession.

Once consent has been asked for and granted, it is necessary that a security officer of the same gender is available to conduct the search (if not, no search can proceed until said officer arrives). Remember that only male security personnel are allowed to search male persons and only female security personnel are only allowed to search female persons.

Security personnel must treat all persons with respect and be polite when requesting to conduct either bag or a body searches. They must also have their identification visible at all times, in order to confirm that they are indeed security personnel duly authorised to conduct such searches. There should also be sufficient signage on display notifying all persons that they may be subject to bag and / or body searches on entry and / or exit.

5 Tips to Conducting Effective Searches

  1. Be polite & professional
  2. Obtain the necessary consent, where applicable
  3. Don’t humiliate the person, especially in front of others
  4. Let the person know why they are being searched
  5. Males search males & females search females

Related Links

Body Searches | Find Out More

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