When Force is Required

March 14, 2013
A comprehensive guide in the use of force for security executives and officers

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. 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. And 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 the authors strongly recommend training in civil liability and interpersonal communication. Competence in these areas makes a protection officer more aware and more effective. Ultimately the officer is 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 hand guns. 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 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 be seeing more of these questions arising.

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 a person that 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.

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, 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 which 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 and 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 it’s 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 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).


Use of Force Self-Assessment for Security Executives

Can you as a security executive answer these five questions?

1. What education, training or experience have I had regarding the use of force?

2. What is my personal philosophy on the use of force by security officers?

3. Can I articulate the philosophy of my employer and/or client regarding the use of force by security officers?

4. Are there gaps or conflicts between that philosophy and what is practiced on the worksite?

5. What are the possible direct, indirect and extra-expense sources of loss which could result from a protection officer using or misusing force to my client or employer?


Calming Techniques

A few simple to execute calming strategies are outlined below. These techniques are usually appropriate after officer safety has been established:

* Breathe. Take a few deep breaths before entering a scene. This calms one down and enables more objective thought. It reduces the chance of losing one’s temper.

* Slow down the action. Speak a little slower. Move a little slower. This tends to calm those in crisis.

* Soften the message. Speak in a softer, lower tone.

* Respect subject’s personal space. And remember that violent persons may have very large personal space zones. Give them lots of space!

* Remove people from the area. Placing an agitated person “on stage” may turn them into an “actor”. It also helps to not have to deal with “cheerleaders” from the crowd who agitate the person acting out.

* Listen. Giving the upset person your undivided attention shows respect. Letting them speak and perhaps vent their frustration usually defuses the situation. At the same time it promotes officer safety: “If they’re talking, they’re not fighting”.

* Be respectful. Address people as “Sir” or “Ma’am” and be polite. 


Use of Force: Managing Your Liability

Improper use of force can have a devastating impact on an organization

By Charles Thibodeau

Lawsuits involving the use of force can run into the millions. After 20 years as an expert witness in excessive use of force cases, I find these cases commonly involve a myriad of different types of situations. They can include:

  1. Use of force or threat of use of force where the victim offers no resistance.
  2. Negligent use of normally non-lethal force resulting in death or serious injury.
  3. Excessive use of force as overreaction to subject resistance that continued past the point of no resistance.
  4. Intentional infliction of excessive force pain as a summary punishment.
  5. Use of deadly force in situations where it is not permitted.
  6. Failure to provide medical treatment for injuries from officer’s “big time” use of force
  7. Inadequate training in proper use of force
  8. Wrongful death, negligent hiring, negligent training or negligent supervision.
  9. Excessive use of force after the subject was handcuffed

Civil suits are serious loss events. Nothing can emerge as a liability generator faster than a lawsuit that is based on the laying on of hands by a security officer. A suit claiming excessive use of force that is complicated by a wrongful death, permanent impairment, paralysis or other serious bodily harm may lead to significant damage awards. It can very quickly and significantly tarnish an organization’s brand. Actions to prevent these suits should be carefully reviewed.

Mitigating Exposure

Eliminating or mitigating use of force liability exposure can be greatly enhanced by using proactive prevention in terms of adequate policies, procedures and lots of training.

There should be initial training when the new officer his hired, as well as continuing education annually, and more frequent training if officers routinely use force. Firearm qualification should be done at least twice per year, along with training in handcuffing, electronic incapacitation devices or impact weapons. Defensive tactics training for hands-on officers should be done in-house three times per year. Officers should also be actively encouraged to participate in self-defense training and physical fitness on their own. Consistent communications to security officers does wonders for preventing negative use of force incidents.

Before a security officer can use that force he or she must be able to demonstrate that the attack contained all of the following:

  • Ability: The attacker had the ability to cause him or her bodily harm.
  • Manifest intent: This means the attacker advanced towards the officer in a way that demonstrated the attacker was going to perform a threat of severe bodily harm or death upon the officer.
  • Imminent jeopardy: The officer must have reasonably believed they were in immediate danger, meaning that the aggressor is going to attack right now, not sometime in the future.
  • Preclusion: There were no other viable options except to use force. It includes many different options such as retreat, getting behind cover, stepping behind a desk or table, etc. Preclusion may also include the use of lower levels of force such as verbal controls or soft empty hand control rather than striking an attacker.

Mitigating Liability

Post orders, which demonstrate that an organization did all it could have to prevent an incident from happening, are valuable in showing that management met their due diligence. Complete, well-written post orders show that standards were met and officers were adequately instructed in their daily job duties. They contain the security department rules and regulations, which obviously must comply with state and federal laws.

Organizations that outsource security personnel must ensure that those officers are in compliance with the client organization’s expectations. Gaps between policy, procedure and actual job performance must be eliminated to the greatest degree possible.

The appropriateness of uses of force will be determined by an objective reasonableness and necessity standard vs. whether the use of force reflected a deliberate and wanton infliction of pain. Some motives that fail when trying to explain the use of force include: revenge, jealousy, heat of passion, punishment, malice, accidents or loss of control. 

About the Author

Chris Hertig & Charles Thibodeau

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).