Security Breakdown: Titles and Control

In the course of your duties, you will often find yourself in a volatile situation where words need to be chosen carefully.  One of these instances happens to involve your title and role as a security guard or private patrol officer.

The Incident

The incident above took place on November 15, 2013 at a highschool hockey game in Westchester, PA.  During research for this article, I wasn’t able to determine if the subject of this video (identified as Aaron McLaughlin) faced any criminal charges for his actions, nor was I able to identify the event security worker and how bad his injuries, if any, were.  Some of the less reliable sources I reviewed indicated that the worker may have been an off-duty deputy sheriff working security as a secondary job.

If you’ve been working in the security industry for any decent length of time, you’ll quickly find that the majority of the public has a general lack of respect for your role.  You’ll often be mocked, degraded or treated with condescension.  If this bothers you, then my advice is to find another line of work to go into– before you get fired, arrested, injured, sued or some combination thereof.

With this in mind, the main point I’d like to make in this article is a simple one:

Don’t use your title or role to establish authority.

It often has no desirable effect and will cause anything from feelings of resentment, increased resistance, and at worst, violent reactions.

The Breakdown

In this particular incident, it appears Mr. McLaughlin had been asked to leave for an undetermined reason.  As the security worker is a representative or authorized person of the property (the ice rink where this took place), he is fully within his legal bounds to do so.  By willfully defying this order, Mr. McLaughlin violated Philadelphia penal code §3503(b) that defines a Defiant Trespasser, a 1st degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 5 years in prison, although Mr. McLaughlin was under 18 during the time of incident (relevant sections highlighted in red):

§ 3503.  Criminal trespass.
        (a)  Buildings and occupied structures.--
            (1)  A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is
        not licensed or privileged to do so, he:
                (i)  enters, gains entry by subterfuge or
            surreptitiously remains in any building or occupied
            structure or separately secured or occupied portion
            thereof; or
                (ii)  breaks into any building or occupied structure
            or separately secured or occupied portion thereof.
            (2)  An offense under paragraph (1)(i) is a felony of the
        third degree, and an offense under paragraph (1)(ii) is a
        felony of the second degree.
            (3)  As used in this subsection:
                "Breaks into."  To gain entry by force, breaking,
            intimidation, unauthorized opening of locks, or through
            an opening not designed for human access.
        (b)  Defiant trespasser.--
            (1)  A person commits an offense if, knowing that he is
        not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or remains in
        any place as to which notice against trespass is given by:
                (i)  actual communication to the actor;
                (ii)  posting in a manner prescribed by law or
            reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders;
                (iii)  fencing or other enclosure manifestly designed
            to exclude intruders;
                (iv)  notices posted in a manner prescribed by law or
            reasonably likely to come to the person's attention at
            each entrance of school grounds that visitors are
            prohibited without authorization from a designated
            school, center or program official; or
                (v)  an actual communication to the actor to leave
            school grounds as communicated by a school, center or
            program official, employee or agent or a law enforcement
            (2)  Except as provided in paragraph (1)(v), an offense
        under this subsection constitutes a misdemeanor of the third
        degree if the offender defies an order to leave personally
        communicated to him by the owner of the premises or other
        authorized person. An offense under paragraph (1)(v)
        constitutes a misdemeanor of the first degree. Otherwise it
        is a summary offense.

Note that in the video, it takes actual physical contact from a second security worker to Mr. McLaughlin’s right arm to actually cause him to begin leaving.  At that point, he turns and asks the first security worker “Who are you? Who are you?”

From my perspective, my thought would’ve been “Does it matter who I am? Who cares? He’s doing what I’m telling him.”  In this case however, the security worker responds with “I’m security, move.”

“I’m security, move.”

During any typical incident, there will be an initial struggle for control between the subject and you. Your job is to react to resistance, not encourage it, and there are many ways a subject might test your control, starting with words and escalating from there.

The faster you can establish and maintain dominance through language and presence, the safer and better things will turn out.

In this case, that’s what Mr. McLaughlin likely wanted– a response that he could use to regain some semblance of control with.  From his perspective, it makes sense– he’s outnumbered 2 to 1, he no longer can keep doing whatever he wants, and he has to leave when he doesn’t want to.  It’s pretty obvious the people in front of him are some sort of security personnel so by testing to see if he can get a response he wants, he feels like he regains control through cause and effect on a small scale.

The security worker’s response emboldened Mr. McLaughlin, at which point he mocks him and then turns around and something new happens: he shoves the security worker, stops leaving– and holds onto the security worker (assault). That’s another moment of escalation.

Up until that point, Mr. McLaughlin’s actions had pushed the envelope– throwing hands up, pushing the security workers– all signs of potential aggressive resistance, so it’s important to maintain somewhat of a safe distance from a subject when those signs are observed.  Since this isn’t possible, the security workers simply maintained neutral contact with Mr. McLaughlin’s arms as much as possible– using minimal force to overcome resistance.

The security worker attempts to redirect Mr. McLaughlin’s arm, which is tough in such tight quarters, fails, and attempts a full-on take down right afterward. The end result is not pretty.

There were several mistakes the security worker made prior to the fight.  Here they are (along with better alternatives):

  • Answering a bait question with a predictable response: Always answer questions as neutrally as possible. You don’t want your answers to embolden a subject. If at all, you don’t even have to answer. But if I had to answer those questions, I might say any of the following:
    • “I’m just a guy at work.”
    • “An employee.”
    • “I’m Spencer.”
  • Giving unnecessarily authoritative commands: In this case, there was no need to follow up with “move,” like the security worker did after identifying himself.
    • The subject already knows he has to leave, he’s not going to be able to go back to where he was standing, what other choice does he have than to leave?
    • It’s possible that structuring a command into a request may have worked better, such as “Please continue down the steps.”
  • Physical contact with zero advantage: The security worker was on a narrow step, in tight quarters, and his backup was stuck in the crowd behind him. If a take down was needed (it may very will have been, I don’t know if a come-along hold would’ve worked too well since the subject in this case was too low to gain leverage), some precautionary measures I would’ve taken are:
    • Wait for my backup to get closer/take a position of advantage.
    • Direct my backup to the rear of the subject.
    • Ask nearby persons to clear away as much as possible.


As I continue to develop this site, I hope to make these breakdowns a regular on-going series.  I hope you found this article helpful, and if you did, please take a moment to leave your thoughts below, or shoot me an email.  Until next time, stay safe!

Your Handcuffs Will Get You in Trouble

Image courtesy of
When was the last time you inspected your cuffs?

For about as long as I’ve been in the security industry, the vast majority of the people I’ve worked with have had zero handcuff training, despite being authorized by their agency to carry them.  This is a worrying trend, and I’m writing this with the primary intention of spurring you to pursue the necessary training if you don’t have it.  It’s not just your responsibility to the public, it’s also for yourself as well– you’d be surprised how many ways these pesky things can get you in trouble.

Don’t get me wrong though– I love my handcuffs.  My cuffs are probably the most-used item on my duty belt, right up there with my keys.  There is definitely a time and place to use them; however, it is important you not only know when and where to use them, but how.

The next few points are a few thoughts and gripes that I’ve collected over the years I’ve spent in this field. If you’re a working professional you probably can relate to most, if not all, of them.

In no particular order…


Do you know what double-locking is? If you do, you’re way ahead of the game. In the past six years, I have worked with dozens of personnel and shockingly enough, only a handful were familiar with this function and its importance.

The double lock is a feature found on every standard pair of professional handcuffs. If the pair you’re looking at doesn’t have one, don’t purchase them no matter how cheap or cool they may be.

A double lock works as a safety feature for handcuffs.  It also reduces your liability and helps keep the cuffed suspect safe. It appears in many forms, but is usually some sort of pin, switch or latch accessible only with the reverse (pin) side of  a standard handcuff key.

Once activated, a double-locked set of cuffs will not tighten any more.  This means once you have properly handcuffed your subject, they can wriggle around and fidget their wrists all they want and the chances that they will over-tighten the cuffs on themselves are drastically reduced.

Non-Professional or Non-Standard Cuffs:

You’d be surprised at the number of security personnel I’ve come across using cheap (and oftentimes dangerous) handcuffs.

With handcuffs, you will get what you pay for. With that in mind, do not cheap out for a pair from eBay, a souvenir stand or a kinky sex shop. Believe it or not, I have worked with actual personnel that actually purchased their cuffs from all three of those places.

These cuffs are usually manufactured overseas with cheap alloys, often with no double lock function and may not even accept a universal handcuff key. There is nothing more embarrassing than turning a suspect over to a police officer to switch your cuffs out for their own, only for them to find that their keys don’t fit your cuffs.  It gets even more embarrassing when fire and rescue has to be called out to cut the cuffs off if you lose the non-standard keys they came with.

The problems are compounded when you take into account that some of these cheap cuffs are prone to corrosion, rust, and may even have sharp/rough edges that cut into your hands and the wrists of the suspect.  Even if you don’t get hurt using them, you still leave yourself vulnerable to a negligence lawsuit if your suspect does.

A good pair of cuffs will cost you anywhere from $30-50 and can withstand a fair amount of abuse. The best restraint manufacturers in my opinion (presented in no particular order) are:

  • Peerless
  • ASP
  • Smith and Wesson

I’ve used cuffs manufactured by all three of these companies and can attest to their quality.  Well-maintained handcuffs will give you years of service and are worth the investment to any true security professional.

Deployment Prior to Suspect P.O.D.:

A big no-no I’ve observed quite often is the security guard that attempts to apply handcuffs too soon.

There is an art to recognizing when it is appropriate to restrain a suspect, especially if they are resistant. The general rule of thumb is to always first achieve a Position Of Disadvantage, or P.O.D.  I will write more about P.O.D. in a future article.

Achieving a P.O.D. can be as simple as pulling a somewhat compliant suspect off-balance prior to applying cuffs. Or it can be as complex as untangling your limbs from the suspect’s during a takedown before transitioning to your cuffs.

Always remember two things:

  • Handcuffs require one hand to grip properly, two hands to properly apply (in most instances).
  • If a suspect is able to break free during the arrest and has a single cuff secured around his/her wrist, the free cuff becomes an improvised impact/slashing weapon.

With these points in mind, it will be obvious why the P.O.D. is so important prior to the deployment and application of restraints.

Here is the bottom line to handcuffing:

An amateur guard will fight a suspect to get the cuffs on.

A professional, however, will fight to subdue a suspect until there is little-to-zero resistance.  Then the cuffs go on.


Take an empty plastic water bottle (cap off) and squeeze it in your hand. Feel how easily it collapses beneath the weight of your fingers? That is ideally how smooth you want your cuffs to function when you work the swing-through.

If you have a good set of handcuffs, regardless of whether they were issued to you or self-purchased, it is your responsibility to keep them maintained.

Inspect them regularly for signs of wear or damage, check for dirt or debris that may prevent the cuffs from functioning properly. Test the double lock and swing-through function (compare it to the water bottle experiment) for smoothness. And of course, oil all the moving parts so they stay moving.


Once again, this article isn’t meant to be a replacement for appropriate professional training. Instead, I hope if you’ve made it this far and you’ve been surprised by what you’ve learned that you seek out the training for your own benefit. The class will not be a waste of time or money and will save you a lot of headache in the long run.

I’d like to end this entry with a few pointers for the security personnel that are seeking to improve themselves:

  • If your agency requires you to carry and/or issues you handcuffs, always insist on obtaining the relevant training.  If the agency does not provide you or your teammates with this training, be hesitant about keeping your current employment.
  • As soon as possible after applying cuffs on a suspect, always check for proper fit, then double-lock. Have a witness present if possible so there is no question that the proper steps were taken to ensure their safety.
  • Err on the side of caution– when possible, call the police to have a handcuffed suspect released.  If you can help it, avoid un-cuffing and releasing a suspect without police assistance.  It could expose you to false imprisonment or excessive force allegations, depending on your local laws.
  • Never reach for or deploy your handcuffs until you have the suspect in a P.O.D., regardless of their compliance level.  Premature deployment can escalate a situation into an unnecessary physical altercation and may be considered excessive or aggressive behavior (on your part) in some cases.
  • Never threaten a suspect with handcuffs in any way.  If you do it verbally, you’ve just tipped your hand and they are one step ahead of you and may attempt to flee or resist.  If you do it physically with your cuffs in hand (and we all know of at least one meat-head that loves to pull the cuffs out in a macho manner), you’ve once again telegraphed your intent.  If they fight, you’ll quickly find out that your cuffs don’t make a very practical self-defense tool and severely limit your ability to manipulate their limbs.  If they run, you’ll be chasing with one hand tied up.
  • Always keep at least one handcuff key concealed on your person, accessible from your rear, in case of emergencies.  Practice retrieving it without looking.

Finally, I know that with all the vast options, makes and models of handcuffs out there, it can be hard to decide what gear you need to purchase (if your agency allows or requires you to do so).

In a future entry, I will be discussing my own set up and others that may work for you.

Until then, stay safe out there.