When Force is Required

A comprehensive guide in the use of force for security executives and officers

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.