When Force is Required

Recent events in Aurora, Newtown, Portland, and countless others have brought protection and the use of force to the forefront of the American consciousness. The use of force against violent, aggressive or resistant persons is a necessity in the protection of people, property and image.

While rare in many environments — perhaps most — it does occur and must be performed in a legal, moral and socially acceptable manner.

Simply stated, force must be used by security officers in order for them to fulfill their overall mission to establish and maintain a stable and relatively predictable environment. The following is a guide to the who, what , when, where and how of using force.


Proactive Prevention

There are serious challenges facing managers regarding the use of force. One is the foundation of what “security” is all about. We can enhance the security mission above through the adoption of the WAECUP Model developed by Bottom and Kostanoski and outlined in the book Introduction to Security and Loss Control, which states that organizational loss is derived from Waste, Accident, Error, Crime or Unethical/Unprofessional Practices. WAECUP makes business sense — its implementation can redirect the security force to become more involved in information/intelligence gathering and to become more proactive overall.

The term “proactive prevention” means relying on early identification of perceived threats and not focusing on responding to incidents after the fact. It is achieved by constant vigilance, observation, reporting and taking limited action. It speaks to the role of the security officer as being an “intelligence agent,” or a collector of information.

If officers understand this and incorporate it into their daily duties, problem situations and people will be identified faster. When officers look for WAECUP issues, they will become better attuned to the environment. When this happens their ability to spot things that are out of order expands, and as a result, they may be more adept at detecting violence-related problems and can see them ahead of time.


Force Defined

The second challenge is knowing what “force” is. Unless a significant amount of study is undertaken, managers may hold all types of misperceptions regarding force. The news and entertainment media distort not only the law, but also the actual application of force. Professional education is the key to dispelling these distortions.

A simple definition is that force is any touching of another person — however slight. Physical contact is force. Touching is force. And touching without legal justification is illegal civilly and perhaps criminally. Aside from the simple definition of actual or applied force, there is constructive force — this is any action or words which would lead a person to be fearful. Tort actions for assault may stem from an aggressive invasion of someone’s personal space. Public perception may also see a security officer being close to and very assertive with a person as brutality.

While an officer being very close to and assertive with someone may or may not technically be force, such actions have consequences. For these reasons, we strongly recommend training in civil liability and interpersonal communication. Competence in these areas makes a protection officer more aware and more effective, and ultimately, the officer becomes more proactive.


Security Postures

There are two types of security approaches or postures: “hands-on” and “hands-off.” Hands-on officers break up fights, arrest shoplifters, and work in the ER or where alcohol is served. They often employ defensive tactics, use handcuffs, OC spray, tasers, etc., and some even carry handguns. Hands-on security personnel often present an enforcement image by wearing police or military-type uniforms.

In contrast, the majority of security officers are hands-off. They get people to comply with rules, generally have no weapons and work in low-risk environments. Their uniforms may be “soft” or low key, such as blazers and slacks. They may wear police-style uniforms, but are unarmed. Hands-off protection forces are found in office buildings, hotels and amusement parks. Some facilities may have both types of personnel, such as casinos, where blazers are the prevailing uniform but where some officers are armed.

Hands-off security infers not touching anyone unless the officer is attacked. It reflects a management philosophy that is non-confrontational. If attacked, the officer is allowed to respond with force for the sole purpose of relieving the imminent danger created by the aggressor.


When Escalation is Necessary

Here are a few major instances where an escalation to the use of force may be required:

1. Imminent threats. An assault in progress obviously calls for the use of force and/or a retreat by the person being assaulted. With security officers, this extends to those whom they have a duty to protect. Protection staff cannot just worry about themselves, they must, of course, safeguard others.

An important consideration that must be addressed by security executives and officers is “whom do I have a duty to protect?” This must be a legally defined duty, however, there is also a moral component. Legal duties arise from contract, job description, deputization, etc., but even then the line can be blurry. A security officer in a bank in a mall, for example, may or may not have a legal duty to protect patrons outside the bank in the mall area; however, one could argue that a moral duty exists. Certainly an officer in this situation who did nothing — or was perceived to — would be severely criticized by onlookers, as would the employers. With burgeoning mass private properties and the view of security post-9/11, we may see more of these questions arise.

2. Large crowds. Big groups of people form for a variety of reasons, and the fact is, they will be present in almost any environment at one time or another. Crowds can cause a myriad of problems — the danger potential is quite significant and can include severe assault or trampling. Using force in front of a group presents challenges. While the old adage “he who hesitates is lost” is particularly relevant to crowd management, it is important not to overreact. Maintaining the proper balance between public perceptions of brutality and timely intervention is a constant challenge when dealing with large groups.

3. Active shooter, active threat and mass murder scenarios. Obviously, in these cases the escalation must be immediate, as successful interventions are those which happen right away. Just as the 9/11 attacks changed the way we look at threat response on airplanes, recent and highly publicized active shooter events have altered our view of reaction to armed assailants. It is likely that the future will bring more changes.

Research done by Ron Borsch indicates that it takes just six minutes to commit multiple mass murders. While there have been very fast responses by police to some of these situations, it is unreasonable to rely on local law enforcement. It is similarly unreasonable — and irresponsible — to rely on some type of proprietary response team.

Humans may not accurately assess time; in fact, active shooters have spawned study into the time necessary for SWAT teams or lone police officers with rifles to respond. The time it takes for an assault to occur, or to block a punch, or to retreat, etc., are just hard to grasp by most of us, including security managers.

Ask these key questions when formulating emergency plans incorporating the use of force:

  • Who will respond?
  • What will they do when they arrive on scene?
  • How quickly will they arrive?
  • What can we do to facilitate their effective response?


When, Where and How Officers Should Be Armed

Weapons of some type are common in protective service work. Generally, non-lethal or less-than-lethal options such as OC or pepper spray are used. There may be handcuffs for restraining those who are dangerous.

Driven by concern over active shooter scenarios, we are seeing handguns and in some cases, shoulder weapons (rifles or shotguns) employed where they were not previously used. Armed assailants require an armed response. Managers must be continually attuned to changes in the threat level so that they can make the best decisions regarding arming their subordinates.

Another driver for arming is the threat of robbery. Facilities that have cash or other high-value assets such as computer chips or rare art are attractive targets for robbers.

One more threat deserves mention: multiple assailants. Management must carefully assess those situations where an officer or someone the officer has a duty to protect is confronted with more than one adversary. Common examples include sporting events and nightclubs.

Weapons selection requires careful analysis. Knee-jerk reactions to violent events should never drive the decision to arm a protection force, and neither should tradition. A former law enforcement officer may feel comfortable with a handgun, but that does not mean it is appropriate.

Weapons are really only as effective as the user. They must be in the hand of someone proficient with them. This does not mean just trained or certified or licensed — it means being skilled and practiced. The definition of “great bodily harm” or “serious bodily injury” must be firmly understood by all armed personnel as well as those doing the arming.


When Officers Should Use Restraint

Most situations — even some of those outlined above — require diplomacy and restraint instead of the use of force. These situations are challenging because they require patience and tact properly mixed with vigilance. Protection officers must be the “ambassadors” of the organization. They must be masters of customer service while serving as management representatives; and they must remember to keep safety as the top priority while being patient and understanding.

Here’s a look at different groups of people that should be approached with restraint in most cases:

People with communications difficulties: Those who are hearing impaired or speak a foreign language can be a challenge. Having officers receive instruction in sign language through a local human service agency may make a lot of sense in terms of learning, cost containment and community relations.

People with mental illness: The overwhelming majority of these people simply need patience and understanding. They are not violent. Officers need to listen to them, move them to a more private, neutral setting and reassure them, etc.

The elderly: They may have oxygen tanks, walkers, wheelchairs, etc., and they may have limited eyesight and/or hearing difficulties. Speaking to the elderly often means getting close to them and using plain, simple English that they can comprehend. Should force be necessary to control elderly persons, it must be applied very carefully. Restraining techniques designed to create the least possible risk of injury such as the CPI Team Control Position must be used. Verbalization to the subject and those in the surrounding area is essential.

Children, especially teens: Youths often rebel against authority and need to be corrected. Sometimes they congregate in groups, and they are often strong and physically fit. All of these attributes increase the likelihood of difficulty in using force to control them. But it doesn’t end there: An older and larger protection officer restraining an unruly teenager may appear to be a bully. Add ethnic and racial factors to the equation and it becomes even more complex.

Women: A paternalistic attitude may inhibit the correct use of force by male protection officers. This coupled with a fear of damaging a woman’s clothing or touching them inappropriately may make using force distasteful. All of these are valid concerns but must be balanced with safety and the duty to manage the situation.

Obviously, there is a real need for confidence on the part of the officer. This is developed by mastering communications skills and is preserved by having realistic policies and procedures in place. It is bolstered by good communications (radio, surveillance coverage) and adequate staffing levels. Two or more people restraining someone is far superior than a single officer trying to do it. Having help alleviates problems in restraint as well as lessening the probability of an officer losing their temper. In short, it promotes professionalism.

Officers must feel that they can take control of a situation so that they can maintain that stable, predictable environment. They must manage human behavior using all the tools at their disposal. These include verbal, nonverbal and para-verbal communications. They use officer presence and proxemics to influence and move people.

If the laying on of hands or use of weapons is required, they do so in a professional manner without hesitation or prejudice. They think in terms of “safety first” and achieve that to the best of their abilities. They are always cognizant of the situation in its entirety.


De-escalation Best Practices

Calm, patient and understanding protection officers must rely on physical control. Those adept at communication have more tools with which to manage those who are aggressive or resistant; thus, they can usually calm people down before using force.

Should force be necessary, the initial use of calming techniques (outlined on page 32) will help justify the officer’s actions. Additionally, calming helps in the “debriefing” phase of an encounter, where the struggle is over and it is time to restore the detainee’s dignity.


Training: Mitigation and Prevention

Quality training delivered throughout an officer’s employment forms the cornerstone for violence management. An astute manager can build a use of force program on top of an anger management, stress management or customer service training program. This can be a training block that all employees receive rather than just security officers. In doing so, the foundations for effective interaction with others — the true end-game in security operations — are established.

If officers are better equipped to calm and defuse a situation, they will have more options for managing it. If they are subsequently armed they can approach an aggressive person or persons with more confidence and ultimately, more professionalism.

Use or misuse of force doesn’t just happen — it occurs because a variety of factors interact with one another. Management has a duty to engineer policies, procedures, deployment, training, etc., to ensure that force is used in an appropriate manner.

When protection officers avoid using force or employ it in a professional manner, their actions represent the culmination of management efforts combined with their own commitment to duty. Managers, officers, clients and others should not accept anything less.


Chris Hertig is is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and Certified Protection Officer Instructor (CPOI). He is an experienced instructor in both training and academic environments and is a master-level instructor in non-violent crisis intervention. He is a member of the ASIS International Council on Academic and Training Programs.

Charles Thibodeau, CPP,CPOI is a consultant, teacher and writer. He is co-author of the Use of Force chapter in The Professional Protection Officer: Practical Security Strategies and Emerging Trends; the text for the Certified Protection Officer (CPO) program administered by the International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO).