The term was formerly used in the United Kingdom for in-house security guards at factories and plants. Despite the name, these men did not have police powers. It has been illegal for police officers to work part-time as security guards in the United Kingdom since 1934.
There are 10 companies whose employees are sworn in as constables under section 79 of the Harbours, Docks, and Piers Clauses Act 1847. As a result, they have the full powers of a constable on any land owned by the harbour, dock, or port and at any place within one mile of any owned land. Additionally, there are also some forces created by specific legislation such as the Port of Tilbury Police (Port of London Act 1968).
These exist in most states in the United States. If they have attended the basic law enforcement officer's training academy in the state in which they work, they may be granted powers of citation, investigation, arrest or detention authority as long as it does not violate state law.
Washington DC has SPO commissions for security guards who may need to make minor arrests and they must complete a brief training course.
The jurisdiction of company police (Special Police Officers/SPO's) is sometimes limited to the property which they have been hired to protect, however many Company Police officers work in a part-time capacity to supplement the salaries they earn as full-time city police or county officers, thereby granting them city-wide or county-wide jurisdiction if the property they are employed on is located within their respective jurisdiction.
North Carolina founded its company police program in the late 1900s to give textile mills and employee villages (housing and company store, offices, etc.) internal police protection and the powers of SPO's were strictly constrained by laws to remain only on company property unless in "continuous and immediate" pursuit. Currently, factories, schools, mill towns, hotels, condominium units and private or gated communities that have internal or contracted special police are constrained legally, in that officers have no jurisdiction on public roads nor on privately owned or rented residences (apartments, cottages, hotel and motel rooms, etc.) but are limited to Property Owner Association (POA) or employer property, public parking lots and private roads controlled by a gate that are owned by the employer. They can arrest or cite for any crime or misdemeanor as provided by law, cite for infractions and can even enforce game laws on employer lands, lakes and waterways. NC requires SPO's to meet all legal standards of any other peace officer and additionally must pass a state-administered written exam specific to company police in order to be commissioned. In recent decades, rules established by the state attorney general were added and tightened for SPO's and their agencies, including compliance audits, complaint investigation and for-cause revocation of agency or officer status. NC also regulates and investigates the backgrounds of all owners or board of director members of any company police agency. Most SPO's in NC are full-time SPO's. City, state or county officers who work a second or part-time job as SPO's can not use their additional commission outside SPO powers, because state regulations mandate that they are bound to act in the capacity of the uniform they are wearing. The three standard types of company or special police are: governmental (school district, NC museum of Art, NC Arboretum, etc.), an entity of state, county or local government; private for-hire agencies that provide contract officers to businesses and other locations and lastly, proprietary agencies such as in-house agencies like Duke Power, property owner associations, shopping malls, etc. Campus police of the UNC System was moved to Chapter 116 and later made regular police departments. Religious colleges (church schools and possibly church-affiliated schools) were restricted under the separation of church and state by the NC supreme court in the Campbell University DWI case, from having campus police. These colleges must contract with for-hire company police or contract with local police or sheriffs for police protection. Railroad police officers in NC are commissioned as SPO's but have police powers statewide. College and hospital SPO's can have police powers on public roads that border or run through employer property.
In the majority of the states in the U.S., actively employed state-certified peace officers, regardless of the capacity in which they are employed (private, public, company, security, campus, etc.), have the ability to pursue and apprehend someone suspected of committing a criminal or violation offense or a felony while on employer or contracted property outside of their normal jurisdiction. They can also detain or make a citizen's arrest if off employer's property or contract sites, then turn the detained violator over to local law enforcement authorities.
In San Francisco, private special police are protected by the city charter.
There are generally two types of Company Police:
- "in-house" or "proprietary" (i.e. employed by the same company or organization they protect, such as a mall, theme park, property owners association or casino);
- "contract", working for a private security company which protects many locations and or multiple businesses;
- "governmental"" working for a special governmental agency: public hospital, public park, school district, museum, fairground, etc.
- Note: in North Carolina, personnel of Private Police must meet all police officer standards, including but not limited to drug screen, psychological evaluation, annual in-service courses of 24 hours, firearms training and qualification, medical exam, background and completion of a one-year probationary period of employment following successful completion of the state mandated 600+ hour NC Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) offered at various academies and community colleges statewide. NC SPO's must also pass a SPO exam from the State Justice Department and may be required to pass a polygraph exam. The officers in NC are titled as Special Police, Railroad Police or Company Police. Private college "Campus Police" were placed under separate legislation in North Carolina, after originally being special police. Police of the NC State University System were initially under the company police act but were later legislative changes made them regular police with all powers of regular city police, including a one-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) from contiguous campus boundaries. UNC system police now are by title police vs. company, special, campus or railroad, which are titles that must be adjoined to all vehicles, badges, patches where the word "police" is visible. NC railroad police have not only extended SPO statewide police powers, they additionally have federal commissions as railroad agents (NGGS 74E, the "Company Police Act").
- "Reforms in the Police", The Times, 27 April 1934
- "Department for Transport - Accountability and Standards of the Port Police Forces". Dft.gov.uk. Retrieved 2011-08-22.