Why security operatives need to stand up for themselves
“Security staff are not human punch bags, they are employees placed in vulnerable positions by the nature of a high risk role. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be protected”. I spoke these exact words in a High Court this year in response to a question from a barrister. I was giving evidence as an expert witness in the High Court in a personal injury case taken against a venue by a customer. The customer struck a security staff member and was removed using reasonable force. His barrister was questioning me on the actions of the security staff upon being struck. He felt they were excessive and I did not. His question to me was “surely as a person working in security you can expect from time to time to deal with this type of incident. Part of the job as one might say”. I stayed professional during my evidence (and because I knew he was just doing his job) but I will admit I was offended by this question. In this article I want to talk about this perception and what I believe security staff should do to change this image.
If I’m honest this perception of security staff really annoys me (language toned down here) . I’ve stood there like many of you and had people shout, scream, spit, punch, kick and bite me because of my job. It’s horrible and degrading and nobody should be subjected to it. I also know that there are many occupations who are worse off than we are and I don’t want to give the impression that we are any worse than many others. The reality is that in many cases we can look after ourselves but that’s not the point. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly has led to this perception. I think the industry itself has to take some of the blame ourselves. For too long it has become normal for this to happen. Of course we encounter risk and that’s part of the job but we have to get better at protecting ourselves before during and after an incident.
Before an incident
Self protection starts long before an incident happens. It starts with knowing what your role is and where that role ends. It also includes knowing the law and what you can and cannot do. There are so many experienced and inexperienced security staff that I meet and who post comments on my page who are working in the industry and have no idea of the law relating to their role. They have developed things that work for them over the years and have never been told any different. Some of these things are not only not advisable but they are illegal. Do some research or at least ask the question.
Next and most importantly is to start standing up for yourself. For an industry full of supposedly tough people why do we (and I include myself in this because I’ve done it many years ago) let employers and managers walk all over us? Its not like there isn’t alternative ‘good’ security work out there for people or alternative employment. If you are standing alone on a fast food restaurant at midnight you are not being a tough guy you are being an idiot. If you show up to work on St Stephens Day for €10 or €11 per hour and no premium then that is your fault for showing up not your employer. You have legal rights and you are a big boy/girl . Stand up for yourself. If that is how lowly you value your service then that is how others will treat you. Same goes for working short-staffed or working with broken or no equipment. If you let people play games with your safety that’s as much your fault for accepting it is theirs for not valuing your safety.
Communicate all of this to others. If you learn something new (like a new law or case study) or if you are unhappy with how you are being treated then tell your colleagues. It makes everybody better off. I can guarantee you that those few employers who take advantage of staff by underpaying or not looking after staff safety wouldn’t be long in changing their tune of nobody would come to work in those conditions.
During an incident
One of my favourite sayings is “You don’t rise to the level of your expectation to fall to the level of your training”. I think it was by an ancient Greek poet called Archilochus. This is whats going to happen during an incident. Whatever you have practiced for is going to come to the fore in a less than perfect way and hopefully get you through safely. That is the reality. It’s all very well me talking on here from the comfort of my keyboard about bearing in mind the use of force principles and situational awareness but the reality is that if you haven’t trained and applied those principles over and over again in lower risk incidents and scenarios then it isn’t going to work when a high risk scenario happens.
What I am trying to say is that you need to be practicing situational awareness in all of the low risk arguments, and interactions you have so that it applies when you need it most under pressure. A useful drill I use in scenario based training is to consider how every incident looks to a person standing 30 feet away with a camera phone who has no idea what they are looking at. That’s the perspective that a bystander will see and its generally what CCTV will see as well, both of which are going to be used to judge your actions afterwards. Its your job not just to deal with the incident put to paint the best picture you can of your actions. Try to remain detached (difficult I know) and not leave yourself open to disciplinary or legal action. If an organisation or employer is being sued or suffering adverse social media attention which is effecting business the most logical response is to scapegoat the individual. Don’t let your own actions feed into that and give anybody an easy solution to their problem.
There are some drills I use in training to make people more aware of this. I’ll give two examples below:
- Set up a scenario such as a removal or an arrest where force options have to be considered and physical intervention may be required. Run the scenario through to its end. Then immediately ask the person acting the security role to provide a verbal report of their actions and why they chose those actions. It gets people into the habit of thinking through the use of force scenarios while under small levels of stress and getting the logical brain to kick back in again immediately after an incident.
- Set up a series of scenarios for each person on the course in small groups and run them through. Use a video recorder at a distance on a tripod to record the scenarios as they unfold. The people in the scenario need to make themselves aware of the camera position and take it into account. For each small group move the video camera to another area of the of the room to get a different angle. Once the scenarios end play back the footage and get the group to critique the incident from the perspective of a bystander or person watching on CCTV. Sometimes I will turn the audio off for this part. It makes people much more situational aware of things like their body language and demeanor during an incident and how they can leave themselves open to all sorts of injuries and claims during an incident.
After the incident
I tend to look at post incident protection from two perspectives. The first is the self-protection aspect in terms of reporting and justifying your actions and preventing any employment or legal issues. The second is the deterrent factor which I believe is sorely lacking in the industry.
Post incident self-protection
I have another saying (your probably getting sick of my sayings at this stage) which I use all of the time during training. In general when security staff have to use physical force there is a good reason for it. What normally lands them in trouble is two things:
- How the incident looks
- How they explain the incident afterwards
We already looked at the first criteria in the section above and now I want to look at the second part. The correct reporting of an incident can save your job and your long-term future in the industry but so often we don’t do it correctly. We deal with the incident and still full of adrenaline we give a full account of our actions to a manager, colleague, bystander or Garda. I’ve been in a retail security situation where I was attacked and spat at by a drug user. Gardaí were called and the person was removed. The manager at the time approached me and their first words were to make sure I did my report before I finished my shift as they would need to send it to Head Office. I politely (slightly exaggerated) told her where to go for her report. You first consideration after an incident is your own physical and mental well-being. If you need medical attention get it, whether its simple first aid or higher level attention in a hospital but either way make sure a report is done for it you have access to that report. Then before you make any statement or written report you get your head sorted. Calm yourself down and give yourself the time and space to think about your report. If that means coming back in tomorrow to do a report then do that. Do not be pushed into writing a statement or report while injured, fatigued or emotional. That might mean calmly telling your boss that you are not fit to complete a report right now and its in your and their best interest if you do it tomorrow. Of course still take your contemporaneous notes in your notebook at the time of things like time, description, witnesses etc but that is it. Every report or statement you write has the potential to impact your livelihood or your future so you owe it to yourself to protect yourself. When you do sit down to write your report try to use a template to make sure that you get all of the relevant details required. If you don’t have a template the you can print off my notebook insert template here as a guide to the content and structure.
This is where we have all let ourselves and the industry down over the years. We have let people away with so much that it became a no risk event to take a swing at a security person. What would happen if a security person struck a customer? We all know that the customer would contact the Gardaí and take a later civil claim against the venue and rightly so. So then why aren’t we doing the same thing? As long as we continue to accept being punched and kicked without consequence for anybody then there is no deterrence factor. Every person who attacks a security person should be held and arrested by the Garda and a statement made. Where serious injuries are incurred then more security staff should be taking civil cases against these people for damages. Why should you miss out on work and have medical expenses when this guy gets to back to his normal life the next day? It wouldn’t be allowed to happen in many other roles. Same goes for employers not protecting their staff and leading to injuries. Make a report, ask what will be done to prevent it happening again and use the personal attack benefit as outlined in the ERO to ensure that you aren’t out-of-pocket for your expenses or wages as a result of a workplace incident. If we start taking these things seriously and enforcing our legal rights as an industry then things wouldn’t be long in changing but we don’t. A security professional said to me the other day “if you can’t stand up for yourself then you have no business in protecting other people” and he was dead right. As long as we continue to accept being treated this way it will continue to happen both from the public and the few unscrupulous employers that are out there.
Security is a dangerous job. We all know that and we accept it when we sign up. Some are fit for it and some are not and that will always be the case. There is a line to be drawn between dealing with risk and being put at adverse risk because of the actions of others. There also has to be an acceptance that if an employers expects you act in a high risk situation then there are consequences when you get injured doing it. This is the same in any other role. I’m not trying to tar every member of the public or every employer with the same brush and ts important to recognise that these are a minority of incidents but they do happen and security staff have had their jobs, futures and physical health altered because of them with little or no consequence for anybody apart from the injured party. That is wrong and it has to change. If it is to change then it has to come from us.Nobody will do it for you. As an industry we have to start standing up and saying that it isn’t acceptable any more.