Effective search procedures
Preparing a search policy
The search process should be consistent and thorough enough to meet the needs of the venue. The example I gave last week of the furniture store not carrying out body searches as it might be deemed not a risk in a furniture store illustrates this. It is also sometimes seen in nightclub search procedures where security don’t search the inside of the legs of patrons above the knee. Could this lead to people sneaking in a bottle in their crotch? Of course it could but does the venue search the crotch of 95% of patrons who aren’t carrying anything to find the 5% who are? That’s a decision each venue has to take individually.
The search process starts when the patron approaches. I always use my own S.E.A.R.C.H.© process when carrying out and teaching searches. The staff should already be wearing PPE as the patron approaches. As we mentioned in the last article the search area should be set up under CCTV in a controlled area and with sufficient staff to manage the process.
The first step is to inform the person of the policy and seek consent for the search.Nothing too long winded just a quick one line. This should happen at more than arms distance apart and give the patron every opportunity to refuse and to leave. We should only be stepping into personal space once consent has been given and we have ascertained the safety risks.
The next step is to ask exactly what the patron does have in their possession and give them the chance to own up to anything they should have. A simple question such as “ are you carrying anything sharp, any weapons, drugs or alcohol”? . Of course the vast majority will say no but at least we asked. The next step is to ask the patron to empty their pockets. To do this we need to have a table, shelf or container to put this stuff in. I’m often astounded at search areas when searches are carried out with items still in people’s pockets. How this is possible is beyond me. Of course with any search the majority of the work should be done by the patrons themselves. We should never ever be putting our hands into pockets. The patron should always do it.
Once the pockets are cleared we carry out a quick visual risk assessment of the patron checking for any obvious issues such as items left in pockets, body language and posture before asking the patron to step forward. I always ask the patron to step forward to me never the other way around. That way I don’t step into their space and I can control them stepping into mine.
The next step is to put the person quickly into the search position. I’m aware that this is better served in a video format but for now this is what we have. The search position should be related clearly to the patron. “Can you stand with your feet more than shoulder width apart, arms outstretched and palms facing upwards”.
Before carrying out the searches I always show the person my empty hands and tell them that I’m starting. This is both for the benefit of the person and the CCTV camera. If reduces the risk of a false accusation of having planted items during the search.
When it comes to the actual procedure of a search there a a variety of different techniques for doing this. Some of the stuff you will see happening at venues is both pointless(in terms of effectiveness) and downright dangerous. I still see people coming off training courses having been shown these methods and thinking they are trained. My preference is a quadrant search (i.e. with the body searched in 4 quadrants). I prefer to search from the front as well which goes against the grain for some people. Firstly I don’t see it as any less safe to do and secondly turning each person around is both time consuming and embarrassing for the patron. In general I use one hand to search and the other as a frame or brace during the search as protection. Both hands should be on the patron at all times but only ever one should be used for searching. I use the edge of hand for searching. This has always been a preference of mine over the palm or back of my hand. For me the order of front, back , left or right is not important as long as all body parts are covered.
I’m not going to be pedantic enough to tell you here which areas should be covered but common sense should prevail. If a male shows up wearing skinny jeans and a tight t-shirt then its sensible to assume that the risk assessment will show that he requires a limited search If a person is wearing short sleeves then there is no need to search bare arms. This stuff should be obvious but in practice it is not. Basically any area that cannot be visually cleared as safe should be searched.
Dealing with finds
The final part of the S.E.A.R.C.H.© procedure is hazard analysis. Speaking plainly that means knowing what to do when you do find something. From the first article we know that in general we are searching for 3 things:
- Contraband alcohol
- Suspected illegal drugs
Each of these items will have differing responses from the security team.
In general a person attempting to sneak contraband alcohol into a venue is seeking to save some money and avoid paying full price for the alcohol. Most venues will understand this and forgive it. Once the alcohol is found the patron will be given the option to either
- Dump the alcohol in a bin and enter
- Take their alcohol and leave.
Bear in mind that security have have no legal right to confiscate alcohol from patrons. The alcohol is the property of the customer to decide what to do with. At the end of each shift the alcohol should be disposed of by the security team and a record made of the disposal.
Suspected illegal drugs
Patrons found in possession of suspected illegal drugs should be refused entry first of all. I know that in the UK there is a process whereby security staff are protected in law to seize drugs and can dispose of them in an amnesty box. However I am not aware of any such right in Irish law. I am open to correction on this though and it is certainly something I would be favour of. The easiest method for me when dealing with obvious personal use drugs is to refuse entry.
There is an alternative to this method. Possession of drugs for personal use is not arrestable by a private citizen. However there is no specified limit for personal use. So if a security operative was to find suspected illegal substances and they were to deem them for supply then they are entitled to make an arrest and detain the person for Gardaí. However as I discussed in previous articles once you make an arrest you must hand them over to Gardaí and still have no right to confiscate the drugs yourself.
Where a weapon is found during a search then there are two considerations. Firstly it is definitely illegal, arrestable and the person can absolutely be arrested by security and handed over to Gardaí. On the flip side of this there is the safety risk involved in making this detention. If the weapon is concealed and security can take control of the person and detain then then is what should happen. However if the person produces the weapon during the search then common sense should prevail and staff should not put their lives at risk to take the weapon unless there is an imminent threat from the person attacking them or others. If a person is waving a weapon and trying to leave then call the Gardaí and keep everybody out of the way.
Bag searches will usually be carried out using the self searching system. Thus means that we would get the person themselves to search the bag ad we observe. There are exceptions to this in certain high risk areas such as airports and courthouses where an X-ray machine does the work for us but in general it will hold true.
Self searches involve the following steps.
- Keep the person a safe distance away.
- Request consent for the search as normal
- Normal control measures in place (CCTV and PPE)
- Request the person to open the bag and keep their hands outside of the bag and step towards you.
- Request that the person tilts the open bag towards the security operative and lets you look inside.
- The security operative may touch the bottom or outside of the bag to move items around inside for a better view but never put hands into the bag.
- If items are required to be removed from the bag for a better view then ask the person to step back and remove them.
- Once complete thank the patron and allow them entry.
If a bag requires further searching then a private area ( still in view of CCTV and with a witness) should be used. In this case the patron will be asked to open the bag from a safe distance and empty its contents on the floor/table. They will then be asked to step away from the contents so that security staff can step forward to investigate. Items of interest can then be removed by security in view of CCTV to a safe area and the person can return the contents to the bag.
The searching of employees as part of their contract has its own issues. In an employment contract there is an in built assumption of a relationship of trust. Carrying out staff searches (although sometimes necessary) is pushing that trust to its limit. A balance has to be struck between managing the risk of theft and the time, cost, intrusiveness and bad feeling generated by searching staff. Its my opinion that in all but the most high risk of merchandise cases that the body searching of employees is intrusive and excessive. Staff searches should be limited to bag and vehicle searches. Searches should be random and cover times outside of just normal work finish times.
When items of interest are found during staff searches then it is a disciplinary issue. Searches should always be carried out with a manager present. This is because security staff generally wont have the authority within the organisation to make a decision on whether the person should be suspended on the spot based on the find or simply summoned to investigation. A key point here is that security staff should never make an arrest at the point of search regardless of the level of evidence provided. This can result in extraordinary trouble and cost to the organisation as the employment case will have to wait until a criminal case if finished before it can proceed.
As staff approach the search point (usually located at the exit) there should be signage in place to inform them of searching. Security should request consent in the same way as for a member of the public.All other control measures such as CCTV and PPE should be in place. Staff should requested to open the bag and self search. Security should never place hands into bags or property. If a more thorough search of a bag or property is required it should be done in a private area away from other staff. Regardless of items being found staff should always reserve the right to have a search done in private if requested.
Once each search is completed the staff member should be thanked and a record made of the search. The record should include the date, time, employee name, searcher name, items checked (if any) and any follow up actions. The employee should be asked to sign or initial the record. Once each search is complete the record will be filed. This helps to build patterns of searches and finds and also to prevent claims to discriminatory practices during searches.
This article has stretched into a two part series and I really could write another two in order to give it the depth it deserves. I’ve some accompanying documents linked in the article above which you can use if you choose. To finish up I’d like to go back to where we started. The vast majority is deterrence based and that is the way that it should be. Even considering that fact though security staff should always be prepared for detection’s and be set up to deal with them safely and effectively. Searching like most other security procedures is just another tool available in the overall management of risk at a venue. Done well its an produce great results. Done poorly it can be a waste of time ad money.
Writers note 1: I know that the search process would be much easier to show in video format. I do intend to shoot a video but I want to do it proper;y. As soon as I can get a camera man and some volunteers I will get it recorded.
Writers note 2: The S.E.A.R.C.H.© procedure is my own intellectual property that I came up with over 5 years ago now. I use it both operationally and in training. I am happy to release it here for individuals to use as an effective method of searching. Please do not use it commercially or as part of a commercial training operation without asking permission first.