The Mall at Stonecrest...
Unarmed security officers fighting an unarmed 15 year-old young man...
Perhaps you've seen the video.
If you did, maybe you've developed your own thoughts about what was captured on a bystander's cell phone camera.
If you didn't see the video, check it out: (warning: includes some explicit language)
After watching that, I'm going to use this video as the backdrop for a three-pronged approach to the remainder of this blog post:
1. Revisit a few PROBLEMS that regularly plague the security industry
2. Offer up potential SOLUTIONS to those problems
3. CHALLENGE you to reflect on how you've mitigated risk and protected your security personnel
Most of the "problems" I'm about to list have existed for a long time, but guard companies must make some fundamental changes if they believe in protecting their guards and the community they serve.
PROBLEM #1: We don't see what started the altercation. This is most certainly true regardless of how you feel about the security officers' response when the video picks up. We aren't able to identify what the original conflict was about or what was said/done to escalate this situation. It seems like there are plenty of witnesses around the scene, but can you guarantee their statements will align and paint a clear picture?
- SOLUTION: Security officers need a documentation/incident recording tool. Being able to document or record an incident from the first sign of aggression to the resolution of the situation is absolutely necessary, especially in today's climate. Having a complete picture of the incident can help the guards, the property, and the guard company comprehensively review the totality of the incident to determine if appropriate force was used and reduce liability if the officers' actions are justified. And in cases where an officer acts poorly or out of policy, the footage of the incident can help guard companies determine why certain actions were taken and identify gaps in their training.
- CHALLENGE: What have you done to provide a documentation tool/device to your officers? For you, the answer may be body cameras or more sophisticated surveillance technology. For me, as a Guardian 8 employee, I'm obviously going to suggest a Pro V2. The choice is yours, but do SOMETHING. The kind of situation we see in the video can happen at any place and at any time.
PROBLEM #2: De-escalatory or defensive tools appear to be lacking. Aside from radios that seem to come dislodged from at least one of the officers during the altercation, it does not appear that the officers have any sort of de-escalatory or defensive tools that would allow them to create distance from any aggressor. They are forced to use their bare hands in the altercation, regardless of whether or not their actions were justified. As you can see from the video, the perception of multiple officers grabbing, punching, or kicking an individual looks really bad. What's worse is that we know from this NIJ first iteration study that strikes and control holds have a very low percentage of effectiveness the first time they are used.
- SOLUTION: Equipping officers with a defensive tool is sensible in an environment where conflict is likely. Even if that conflict is largely verbal in nature, relying on completely unarmed guards means that any escalation beyond a shouting match results in someone going hands-on. In my mind, a mall setting has the potential for lots of this type of conflict. Therefore, a defensive tool that doesn't require officers to put their hands on someone seems to make sense for that environment. If that tool could also help de-escalate the incident and cause the subject to move along without escalating, it creates a win for everyone. Imagine how this video would look if none of the officers ever physically touched the subject. Yes, the potential exists for officers to inappropriately use a defensive tool in an aggressive manner, but that's where robust officer training and the use of truly non-lethal tools mitigates the risk.
- CHALLENGE: Are you providing adequate de-escalatory and defensive equipment (and training) to officers who work in environments where conflict is likely? It's "easier" and "cheaper" to send unarmed officers into the world hoping that their presence alone will deter people from behaving badly. Considering movies have been made about the folly of that thinking, I shouldn't have to convince you that this mentality is inherently flawed. And on the cost side, we've determined that deploying one Pro V2 across two officers in a shared unit setup results in a roughly $0.05 uptick in hourly cost. That's a small price to pay for a much bigger potential payoff when you can have documentation, de-escalation, and defense technology in one tool. Other tools may have different cost implications, but the bottom line is that having totally unarmed officers in locations where conflict is likely often sets them up for eventual failure or serious legal exposure for the guard company.
PROBLEM #3: Training is inadequate. You've likely noticed that I've stayed away from inserting my opinion about the video in this post, and I do that to be intentionally objective. However, it is clear that inadequate training was at work here. From what I see, the officers failed to recognize whether or not a physical threat was present after momentarily disengaging from the subject on multiple occasions. They did not appear to notice his body language and respond in a way that was sensible. Regardless of what led up to what we can see on camera, the fact remains that recognizing and managing aggressive (or defensive) behaviors is a critical skill to hone as a security officer who does not necessarily have apprehension authority. It appears from what we can see that this incident got out of hand and stepped away from a professional security use of force incident to a street fight.
- SOLUTION: Don't assume training proficiency. As the Training Headmaster for Guardian 8 and over a decade of experience creating and facilitating training, I know that training can often be viewed as a box to check instead of an investment. There are legal requirements and state/government-mandated criteria for different certifications or accreditation, so training can sometimes become a chore instead of something you look forward to. If you really want to get ahead of the game, exceed whatever standards are set for your guard/officer training. Double up on the number of hours needed for annual certifications or in-house refresher training. Regularly test proficiency in everything from verbal de-escalatory skills to defensive tactics with spontaneous scenario-based training. Perhaps you should even consider doing a "mystery shop" of your security personnel to see how they're performing in the real world.
- CHALLENGE: Do you exceed the standards? Lawsuits for use of force incidents regularly go after inadequate training as a root cause of an officer's behavior, so don't crack the door for legal exposure by meeting the minimum standards. Imagine if the officers in this video received regular training on de-escalatory techniques or how to effectively use a defensive tool to prevent a physical altercation. Would their "muscle memory" have helped them restrain themselves a bit or think twice about continuing their aggressive behavior once the subject covered up and rolled away? It's worth considering.
While the officers in this video were suspended for their actions, I don't believe this incident had to go down the way it did. And while you can always Monday morning quarterback any situation, my gut tells me that this incident would have looked very different if these officers had the tools and training discussed above. What do you think?