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Why a “Hands-Off” Security Policy Increases a Company’s Liability

To improve security and reduce liability, I encourage corporate and enterprise clients to create policies that support -- and don’t contradict -- their expectations for safety.

You enter a corporate lobby and see a guard force monitoring access and the environment. They appear physically fit, professional, and alert. You immediately gain confidence in their ability. Most of all, you feel reassured, i.e. that this company is serious about the safety and security of their employees.

As I travel the world conducting security assessments for various corporations and enterprises, I observe this reassuring scene of upstanding security. Once I meet with the in‐house security, HR, and legal executives, they reiterate their confidence in their contracted security team.

All good, right? Not necessarily. Often the security policies these executives push down to their security provider do not support their expectations for safety.

Here is a classic example:

Following my initial meeting with executives, I dive into the trenches with the guard force and ask basic questions about the policies that govern their actions.

My first question: “What is your ‘use‐of‐force’ policy?”

They explain the company’s “hands‐off” policy (or philosophy) for the guard force. This “hands‐off” approach withers upon my first follow‐up question, much less, when I go 10 Questions Deep in my assessment.

When a guard force is trained in de‐escalation of violence, and not escalation, they degenerate into a half‐trained guard force. Driven by liability concerns, corporate executives begin to cross their fingers and hope for the best, i.e. “Keep us safe [expectation], but never with your hands [policy].”

My next question: “What do you do if a physical response is necessary?”

Try as they may, no one provides a satisfying answer. The contradiction between an expectation of safety through a policy of inaction creates an anemic guard force that is ill‐equipped, ill‐trained, and ill‐prepared to respond to the ultimate scenario: a violent attack.

At my next meeting with the executives, I mention this glaring contradiction between their expectations and their policy. To gain their buy‐in for equipping and training their guard force with scenarios, handcuffs, non‐lethal weapons (TASERs and pepper spray), and possibly firearms, I mention the elephant in the room: liability.

Always fearful of a lawsuit due to “excessive force,” the executives adopt a “no force” policy as their solution. This is when I spring into action and describe a plausible violent scenario – one that can often occur with terminated employees, intoxicated patrons at corporate events, or even disruptive vagrants accessing the lobby. (I also mention less plausible and more deadly scenarios like active shooters.) “In these situations,” I say, “where physical force is required, imagine how an ill‐equipped and ill‐trained guard force would respond. Either they will allow the disruptor to operate with impunity, or they will respond inappropriately (“excessive force”) due to their lack of training?”

Either way, it’s a liability! Either the disruptor sues you for excessive force, or your employees sue you for not protecting them. To reduce liability, I recommend a Use of Force policy that governs and regulates the appropriate use of force to reduce and mitigate violent encounters.

Instead of hoping for the best,” I tell clients, “assume the worst and train and equip your security force for those worst‐case scenarios. In doing so, your policy will begin to match your expectations.” The result will be a reduction in liability and an increase in employee safety.

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Fritz Allen is Vice President of Physical Security Design at Gavin de Becker & Associates.

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