What Security Guards Should Know When Police Visit Condo Buildings
By: Kim Brown
Date Published: May 21, 2021
Most people will readily comply with requests from police officers. However, even the police must follow rules and procedures while they are working. This is particularly important to keep in mind when officers come into condominium buildings.
Police work hard to keep their community safe. But they must balance that obligation with citizens’ reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, police can enter common areas of a condo building if a resident called 9-1-1. However, if they are working on a case and suspect that there is evidence being hidden by a resident of the building, they cannot enter any unit without a warrant.
Often, security guards and concierge staff are the ones responsible for assisting police when they arrive at a condominium, business, or school. Whether they are at the front desk or already attending to a resident who needs help, guards play a big role in preserving safety and security for condo residents. Therefore, they are generally most qualified to direct or help local police officers. And while they may not have the same level of authority as a police officer, guards on duty do have the right to refuse requests from police.
Balancing privacy with security
Privacy concerns are high when police seek to enter someone’s home. Unless there is an emergency, police officers must obtain search or arrest warrants before entering a home or condo unit. They may also need special permission to enter shared common elements such as hallways, outdoor patios or locker units.
As a general rule, the police are supposed to obtain a warrant before searching a private property. Any search that is conducted without a warrant is presumed to be unreasonable. That means the officers will have to justify why the search was conducted without a warrant if the defendant challenges it in court.
There are situations where police could ask the condo board, manager, or security guard to do something that may or may not infringe on residents’ reasonable expectation of privacy. We’ll examine a real example of this type of situation shortly. Those in favour of increased security would likely permit the officers to go ahead with their work because they believe anyone breaking the law shouldn’t be able to use any part of the condo to veil criminal activities. Many condo residents would give up some privacy for increased security. However, those in favour of increased privacy would argue that residents shouldn’t have to give up any of their privacy to receive protection.
Security teams and condo boards will need to assess what is best for the community, and reach a decision based on the particular facts of the case.
When to comply with and refuse requests
- If a police officer arrives at the condo building and asks to enter a unit because they are responding to an emergency call, then security should work with the officer to ensure they can reach the resident as quickly as possible.
- If the officer has a warrant to search part of the condo, the guard should ask to read the warrant, ensure all names, addresses, and other relevant details are correct, and take down the officer’s name and badge number. Those details can then be included in the guard’s security log or incident report. If the warrant is correct, allow the officer to proceed. Don’t hesitate to call a supervisor whenever police arrive on site.
- A security guard cannot give an officer permission to search a resident’s unit. However, if the police can point to circumstances that would justify immediate entry, such as screams or aggressive yelling, they may enter without permission.
- If the police ask a guard to pull up information about a resident, the guard should ask them to submit a formal written request to the building manager or board.
- Finally, if the police do not have a warrant but ask to search a common element or unit, the guard should politely but firmly ask that the police come back with a search warrant. Do not hesitate to contact a supervisor if you need help managing the situation.
An example of a gray area
There was a very interesting story about police and condo privacy that occurred in 2014. Toronto police installed hidden cameras in multiple condo hallways to collect evidence for a gang-related drug-dealing investigation. They did this without a warrant, but they did get permission from the corporations. During the course of the investigation, there were about 90 warrantless entries on common elements of various condo buildings located in the Toronto area (it was reported that some of the access to common elements was done prior to having obtained the corporations’ consent).
Later on, the police did obtain wiretap authorizations under the Criminal Code, authorizing them to intercept the communications of nearly 150 suspects. The warrant authorized police to enter common areas, select units, and to install hidden cameras in the hallways outside of these units.
The investigation resulted in the arrest of 112 people. Some were charged with offences including murder, drugs and firearms, and human trafficking. The accused alleged that the evidence collected by the hidden police camera shouldn’t have been admitted to evidence as it constituted a breach of privacy. They argued that their home, and reasonable expectation of privacy, began at the front lobby, not directly outside of their unit.
The trial judge decided that a warrant was not required in this case, and allowed the recorded evidence to be included. However, the decision was appealed, and the court ruled that it would be unreasonable for the board or management to allow police to install hidden cameras without a warrant.
“It was not reasonable for the condominium board or its delegates to consent to surreptitious video surveillance on behalf of the residents. This is beyond the bounds of its authority. The board has a duty to manage common areas. This will sometimes involve allowing non-residents such as maintenance people, management, and perhaps even police, to enter common areas as needed. Surreptitious video surveillance by the police is different. There is a limit to the board’s delegated authority. That limit was surpassed when the board purported to consent to the installation of hidden cameras on behalf of residents.”
Though security would almost never find themselves in a position where they would be asked to grant the police authorization to install a hidden camera, they may be asked to grant police permission to search common areas. If they ask to do this without a warrant, guards should say no. This is a decision for management to make, and as the example above shows, it can become a legal issue. Don’t risk putting yourself or your company in a position where you must defend your actions to a judge. Ask police to come back with a warrant, and inform your supervisor and management of the situation.
Security guards are not obligated to comply with every request made by police if the request is not reasonable. While guards should work with local officers in emergency situations, they must also respect the residents’ right to a reasonable level of privacy within their building.