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!

Why Are You Fighting? (How Not to Get in Trouble)

Photo credit: Aislinn Ritchie
If you look like this during a physical altercation, you might consider another line of work. (Photo credit: Aislinn Ritchie via Flickr)

One of the distinct traits that separates incompetent security personnel from the professionals is their intent during a physical altercation.

Security personnel should never, under any circumstances, fight with the intention of deliberately harming a suspect.  In fact, while I’m at it, no security personnel should ever start or become embroiled in a physical altercation to:

  • Teach the suspect “a lesson”
  • Release anger
  • Prove their “worth” or mettle

In fact, the word “fight’ is used here a bit erroneously.  The suspect may be fighting you, but you should be focusing on the following, in order of importance:

  • Protecting yourself
  • Protecting those around you
  • Subduing the suspect

That’s it.  Any physical action you take with any other intention is most likely excessive, unnecessary, or downright criminal.  I have worked with many security personnel who had zero arrest training, but stuck with the job because they thought it gave them the right to hurt people they didn’t approve of with impunity.  If you ever find yourself working with someone like this, avoid them at all costs.  They will end up dragging you down with them eventually.  At best, you’ll get fired.  At worst, you may be criminally charged.

I’ve been in plenty of scuffles, enough to have learned the hard way– the longer a fight goes on, the more likely someone will get hurt.  That someone could be you.  You may not care about the suspect getting injured, but you should care what sort of options injuries will make available to him/her, because in today’s litigious society, even a legitimate arrest with no serious injuries can garner attention and result in a civil lawsuit.  Here’s an excerpt from the article:

From ABC7’s Eileen Frere on 07-08-15:

In a statement, Knott’s Berry Farm officials say while a security officer was investigating [a] theft Reedburg “became verbally abusive and was asked to leave the park. [Reedburg] refused to leave and then physically assaulted several of our security staff members, which led to an arrest made by the Buena Park Police Department. We take matters of this nature very seriously.”

Reedburg insists he didn’t touch anyone and that staff members never asked him to leave the park. When Eyewitness News asked Reedburg if he had been arrested, he replied “no comment.”

In this instance , the personnel involved were smart enough to document everything, probably have video evidence of some sort and the support of an official police report detailing the ultimate arrest of the suspect, all of which will probably be enough to get any lawsuit he brings against the security team dismissed.  Here’s a raw video of the incident (via YouTube, taken from ABC7):

Note several things seen here:

  • The security team is working to control the limbs of the suspect in order to subdue him.  There are no strikes involved.
  • Although this incident can indeed be considered a fight, the security team is not using force in a non-subduing capacity.
  • Despite the fight starting over the suspect allegedly physically assaulting a security staff member, it is clear that there is no intent to deliberately injure the suspect or to extract “retribution.”
  • The security team shows great restraint in the use of force and utilizes only the sufficient amount of force needed to subdue and restrain the suspect.
  • One of the suspect’s wrists has been cuffed prematurely (prior to placing the suspect in a P.O.D.), a no-no I cover in this article.  With less personnel, the cuff may have become an improvised weapon in the hands of an already-combative subject.

As this site develops and I get more content up, there will be plenty of other articles on my opinions of use-of-force.  However, from my experience, there are only two situations in which any security agent should ever use force to take a suspect into custody:

  1. Someone has hurt or is hurting you.
  2. Someone has hurt or is hurting someone else.

During the incident, your focus should be to restrain, not injure. Situations that would not validate a use of force include:

  • Theft of property without violence
  • Damage to property
  • Verbal threats
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Any non-violent misdemeanor

Property can be replaced– let it go.  Money can be replaced– let it go.  People cannot get un-injured or un-hurt easily.  If you’re going to use force, be sure you can justify it.

Fake Security Guards: Why We Need to Shape Up

From FOX59 reporter Alexis McAdams on 07-27-2015 (emphasis added):

EXCLUSIVE: Shopper held at gunpoint by fake security guard on Indy’s Northside

Indianapolis, Indiana (July 26, 2015) – “He said move over to the passenger seat or I will kill you,” says the victim who asked to be unidentified.

Those are the terrifying words a 30 year-old Indianapolis mother heard before she and her six month old baby girl were nearly kidnapped Saturday morning.

The woman who asked FOX59 to hide her identity says a White male in his upper fifties was sitting in a Blue PT Cruiser in the Walmart parking lot on Keystone watching her unload her groceries before he pulled out a gun and tried to hijack her mini van while her daughter was in the back seat.

According to the victim, the man was wearing a Blue security guard uniform and armed with a Chrome handgun when he pulled open her car door and tried to force himself into her minivan, repeatedly threatening her life.

“There was something very disturbing about him,” she says.

The single mother says the suspect watched her from his sideview mirror until she got inside of her car and believes he did not want her belongings.

“He could have demanded money or anything he wanted and he didn’t. He was just pushing me into the car,” says the victim.

She finally saw a man getting into his truck and noticed a Walmart employee walking nearby and knew that was her chance to get help.

“I just took my chance and I screamed help and I pushed him,” she says.

The suspect fled the scene in his Blue PT Cruiser. If you have any information on the incident call IMPD or Crime Stoppers.

Last I checked, there are approximately eight private security personnel in the United States for every sworn police officer.

For as long as I can recall, the standards security personnel are held to have always been far too lax.  There are far too many causes to list, but examples include a lack of unified training, fly-by-night agencies, low wages, and general personnel incompetence stemming from some combination of all of these.

Consequently, the general public has a very low opinion, and therefore expectation, of most security personnel.  This is exacerbated by popular media lambasting our industry with films such as the Paul Blart: Mall Cop films and other stereotypical depictions (as hilarious as they sometimes are).

These stereotypes are damaging to actual security professionals by creating tactical hazards for us.  Suspects are more likely to be non-compliant or combative because their preconceptions of weak and/or incompetent security negates any deterrent effect our presence is supposed to have on them.  It traps us on the lower end of the payscale because employers and contracts don’t see any additional worth in us.

But most of all, when criminals pose as us (as in the case cited above), it doesn’t set off any alarm bells.

The victim in the above article “says the suspect watched her from his sideview mirror until she got inside of her car,” but doesn’t stop to question the following before dismissing her concerns:

  • Why is he in a non-patrol vehicle, but in a (non-police) uniform?
  • Is his uniform that of the security personnel for the property I’m at?
  • If not, why is he here and what is he doing?
  • (If visible) Why is he armed with a silver (possibly non-duty approved) weapon?

Although it isn’t mentioned in the article, the video above shows an interview with the victim in which she even states “It’s kind of one of those things … you know, you get that feeling … the hair on the back of your neck rises, and you have goosebumps.”  But because her expectations of security personnel may not have been as high as it should have been, she ignored all the warning signs she felt, perhaps because she didn’t expect much better than what she was seeing.

If security personnel were held to a higher standard, the victim might have realized something was amiss at these signs.  She might have maintained visual of the suspect and observed his approach early enough to take evasive action.

But no, shady security companies often allow patrol vehicles to remain a standard, sometimes dangerously-civilian appearance and let their personnel carry any firearm they wish without regulation.

As security professionals, it is our responsibility to the public to take up that slack, to change the public perception of our industry and show them that we can and do operate at a high level of competence.

So to those security guards sleeping on duty with your shirt untucked and unauthorized sneakers unlaced, get it together.  Owners of security agencies that only staff mooks in the crappiest cars you can find, get it together.  You guys are the reason why the public takes private security as a joke.

Until we all improve, we will all suffer.

Security Guard or Security Officer?

One of the most important (and often overlooked) aspects of this field is our title.  It can (and does) greatly affect the public’s perception of personnel almost as much as uniforms and bearing does.

For the general public, there isn’t much difference between a security guard or an officer– they both (unfortunately) get lumped into the same category and are referred to as just guards.  At times, the term guard may even be used in a derogatory or insulting manner towards you.

You should never take offense at being referred to as a guard, nor should you ever correct any person that refers to you as such.  It’s bad practice and will only reinforce any negative stereotypes or perceptions the person may already have.  Instead, do everything in your power to organically correct that person’s view of the security industry.  It’s your responsibility to do so.

Generally speaking, the line between guard and officer is a distinct one.

Traditionally, a guard…

  • …is stationary, usually at either a sitting or standing post, with very little freedom of movement
  • …is assigned one or two simple tasks, usually of a mundane nature
  • …is afforded very little trust or autonomy, regardless of the level of oversight they may be subject to

On the other hand, however, an officer…

  • …may be assigned a fixed post, however is expected to maintain coverage of an entire area not possible while stationary
  • …may be assigned post orders, but is largely expected to understand and handle a wide variety of situations
  • …is afforded much more trust and autonomy, regardless of the level of oversight they are subjected to

Some companies may attempt to distance themselves from the word “guard” by assigning a whole host of titles such as security agent, security host, loss prevention agent, specialist, asset protector, etc.  They all boil down to the same points the officer has, as outlined above.

As a security professional, your job should always be to strive to fill out the role of an officer, not a guard (unless your post orders are specifically to do so).

In future posts, I will be outlining important traits every security professional should possess, as well as how to acquire and develop them.