FROM SECURITY TECHNOLOGY EXECUTIVE MAGAZINE
By Paul Hughes June 14, 2013
If you have never considered the safety risks of a professional security officer, consider that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over the course of the past eight years, the fatality rate in this line of work has been twice the national average. The exception during that time was 2005, when security guard fatality risk was 67 percent higher than the rest of industry. Your guards are undoubtedly aware of the risk, and they may have even shared a “close call” story with you.
BLS data reveals that more than 60 percent of guard deaths are the result of a violent act, as opposed to falls or other causes. This alarming statistic is evidence that security officers are being outmatched when it comes to defending themselves at their post. An informal survey I ran on LinkedIn validates this observation — 56 percent of the guards that responded indicated that the only items on their duty belt were a radio and/or handcuffs.
Considering these statistics, it is clear that security officers need tools that can help them do their job and protect themselves from violence. Enhanced non-lethal (ENL) devices are designed to help officers protect themselves, while being sensitive to their clients’ concerns towards risk. The goal of ENL devices is to provide “enhanced presence” and de-escalate the potential for conflict by presenting a stronger image of authority to an aggressor.
Today, there are a number of sensible options available for security officers to achieve “enhanced presence” with non-lethal tools — they include ENL devices, conducted energy weapons (stun), weaponized flashlights, batons and pepper spray. But before you can determine the right tool, you must accurately depict the role of your officers.
The tools should be appropriate for the role and enhance the ability of security officers to perform their duties. You wouldn’t ask police officers to kick in a door without also giving them a bullet-proof vest. The same holds true for your guards. If your guards have handcuffs, what other tools do they have to impose their will while they secure a person’s wrists with those cuffs? If the answer is “nothing,” keep reading.
Tools for the Job
Distance + Time = Safety. For security pros, this is an important equation, particularly when considering the items on a guard’s duty belt. The tools on the belt should help maximize the time a guard has to react to a threat while keeping that threat at a safe distance.
Enhanced Non-Lethal (ENL):
ENLs are an emerging category of economical tools that combine two or more non-lethal capabilities, as well as an integrated communication or alerting platform. For example, an ENL can combine pepper spray, a disorienting strobe light and a Bluetooth communication module that automatically calls a central desk or field supervisor for support when needed. Products in this category can engage a threatening person at distances of 10 feet and provide a security officer with an escape opportunity. Some ENL devices even have on-board video cameras, which are an excellent means of accurately reporting an incident.
Conducted Energy Weapon (CEW):
There is a significant difference between contact stun devices and neuromuscular incapacitation (NMI) devices built for law enforcement. Both are in the CEW category, but contact stun devices require the officer to get within arm’s reach of an aggressive subject. Generally speaking, this is a poor tactic. A more effective, safer option for your guard is a CEW that deploy probes, since these work from a distance of up to 25 feet. When evaluating CEWs, do not accept substitutes; rather, invest in a brand-name device with the understanding that your guard may be deploying a CEW as a tactical tool in a defensive scenario. Even though you may think a CEW may be too much tool for your guards, you need to consider that person’s role carefully before dismissing this option.
The concept of combining the utility of a flashlight with defensive capabilities has often been a controversial topic because many tacticians do not believe it is wise to conceal a defensive capability. If a guard has defensive abilities, he should show them to create a deterrent. There are a number of flashlights that have either a stun capability built into them, or alternatively, display a dazzling strobe sequence to cause dizziness or nausea. These tools are very economical, but they can be defeated and expose the officer to the same proximity risk as contact stun devices. Weaponzied flashlights are better than having nothing, but if you are striving for “enhanced presence,” this type of device does not offer a very imposing profile.
While collapsible batons have been in use for years, technology has improved their balance, striking power and convenience. The operating principle of a baton is simple — intimidation and/or physical injury. Batons are low-cost and effective, but the chance your guard may accidentally deliver a debilitating or fatal head strike may be too much risk for a company to absorb. Consider them, but understand that pictures of an effective baton strike could be the centerpiece of a plaintiff’s case against the officer or your organization.
By some estimates, nearly 30 percent of security officers currently carry pepper spray as a defensive tool. Pepper spray is popular because, by spraying the active ingredient oleoresin capsicum (O.C.) at distances of 15 feet or more, it provides an inexpensive escape opportunity. The risks associated with deploying pepper spray are generally low and can be overcome with excellent training and regular refresher courses. Training is essential to ensure proper aiming technique because pepper spray devices do not include an aiming mechanism, such as a laser spotter or mechanical sight, and the spray is susceptible to wind conditions.
It’s clear from the statistical trends that the risks security officers face are serious. By providing the right tools for the job, you will see an instant transformation in morale, how they carry themselves and exude pride in their work because they know there is less risk to their safety.
When considering what devices guards need on their tool belt, here are some guidelines to ensure that the selection you make is sensible, tactically sound and cost effective:
- Collaborate with your security chief in defining the role of your guard and the risks they face
- Ensure the threats that your guards face are met with an appropriate response
- When possible, maximize the distance at which your guard can engage a threat
- Budget for annual training at minimum, although quarterly is preferred
- Review training materials to ensure they help address risks unique to the location
- Ensure the reporting of incidents are thorough and include images and audio
- Establish a clear chain of command for report reviews while including the training chief in the reviews.
When choosing the tools for your guard’s duty belt, remember that there isn’t a perfect tool for every situation. Encourage the use of products that provide a layered defense for your guard and protect your company against frivolous lawsuits. By selecting the right products, your guards will have more satisfaction in their job, resulting in lower turnover, less risk and reduced operating costs.
Paul Hughes, Chief Operating Officer of Guardian 8, is a former U.S. Marine and veteran of Operations Desert Storm/Shield. He has served as brand manager for Smith & Wesson, and as director of new markets at TASER.