Security Officers Excessive Force

 In Blog Postings, Case Study, Education, Healthcare Security, Hospitality, Places of Worship, Transportation, Uncategorized

The excessive use of force with regards to security officers is one of those subjects that can vary a lot, and result in severe injuries or even death. In most cases there will likely be civil litigation as well.

Use of Force

Again, the use of force can be a wide range of physical actions on the past of the security officer, or in some cases nothing more than verbal. Standing in the path of someone’s intended escape route can be considered a use of force and/or a restraint. The question is, at what point is a security officer permitted to use physical force and how much force can be utilized? If you have security officers at your business or property today, and you do not know the answer to that question, you had better find out immediately.

Keep in mind too that the definition of Use of Force can be wide ranging, and in some cases, it may be dictated by the state as to what a security officer can and cannot do. Do you know what the laws say? Do you know what the Best Practices are? Have you developed a credible and defensible security officer training program that addresses the use of force?

Increased Liability Risks Due to Use of Force

Undoubtedly there will always be an increased liability risk when it comes to the use of force. However, that does not mean that every use of force will result in litigation. What it does mean is that we must understand the risks and determine our risk tolerance.

It is my opinion that in most cases the civil lawsuits that are litigated with regards to an excessive use of force by a security officer, will likely fall into the appropriate category. By that I am suggesting that with a proper defense and a reputable security expert the case may not go far. However, keep in mind that that is assuming that your organization has the proper policies, training, records, management oversight, and controls in place.

There are published best practices related to the use of force, and there are plenty of sample policies out on the Web that you can use to make your own policies. There are also reputable training schools and trainers that can also stand up to intense scrutiny when they are being challenged during a civil case. As for the records and management oversight, that is something that needs to be developed, evaluated, and always monitored.

Security Management

Not every business has a security department, and there is no requirement to have such a department. However, someone must be responsible for the security regardless of how large or small your business is.

For example, the corner store in a rural community in the middle of Iowa, has to have someone within the company that is responsible for the business security. That includes if that business is a Mom & Pop store. The reality is that that business may be held to a level of security that is reasonable, and reasonable may not be defined. In other words, what is reasonable may be determined by the judge or jury in a civil litigation matter after the fact.

By no means am I suggesting that every family owned business must hire a security manager, but they do need to designate someone to oversee the security. This person does not need to have a lot of specialized training, but they need to know where they can find the resources needed at the appropriate time. In simple terms, they do not need to know how to repair a security alarm, but they need to have a vendor that does know how.

Security – Proprietary or Contract

When your business determines that there is a need to have security officers, full-time or part-time, there will be a lot of things to consider.

  • How many hours will they be working?
  • What days of the week will they work?
  • Will they be hired as employees, or will you hire a guard service provider?
  • Who will manage the officers?
  • Will they wear a uniform?
  • Will they carry any weapons?
  • Who will write the policies and provide the training?
  • What will the security officers be required to do during their shift?
  • What are they protecting against?
  • What risks have been identified that causes the formation of the security operations?
  • Will the officers be trained about those risks and how to identify additional risks?

I could go on forever with the list of things that will need to be considered prior to forming a security department, as well as those things that will undoubtedly come up as soon as security is in place. The point is, if you think you need security, find a security expert that can walk you through the process and determine your risks and potential liability exposure.

A common practice is that when management does not know the answers to the basic questions above, they will call on a guard service provider to do it for them. In doing so, they may get lucky and find an exceptional security contractor that can make their lives easier for them. However, over the years I have been retained by a business to come in and evaluate their security contractor. In doing so I found that they were not qualified to provide security in many cases.

When evaluating a security contractor in downtown Los Angeles a few years back I met with the site security manager and his regional manager. The first question I asked them both was, did your firm prepare a security risk assessment for this client? Their response was that they just looked at each other, and then the regional manager said I am sure that we did. So, I asked them both, have you reviewed the security risk assessment that you believe that your firm developed? Again, they both just looked at each other and had no comment. So my next question was, you are not certain there is a report, but if is there is one you have not seen it personally, how can you determine what the security officers at this site are protecting against? Again, no comment. So, I went one more time and asked, what is the highest security risk for this property and what are your officers and management doing to address that risk? Crickets…..I was beating a dead horse at that point. My point here is that deferring your responsibility to a security guard company without verifying that they are competent and knowledgeable is not a defense in a civil liability litigation case.

Security Officer Training

I cannot tell you how many times I have asked a security manager about their training program for the security officers only to be told that they personally do the training, or have a security officer that was once a police officer that trains the security officers. When I hear anything like that, I know I have my work cut out for me.

A security officer that was at one point in their lives a police officer, is not unquestionably qualified to be a trainer. The ex-police officer’s credentials have likely long ago expired, and worse yet do you really want your security officers to be trained by a police officer who is not current on his training and credentials and qualifications to train others?

When we are talking about a case of excessive force being used by a security officer, that was trained by a former police officer, you can bet that the former cops background, experience, training and so on will come up during litigation. Keep in mind that if that officer had any excessive force complaints against him/her while a police officer, that too would likely come up later.

In another example, there was a hospital in California that was outsourcing their security officer training to a contract security company. Not unheard of, but in this case it appeared that they were just trying to defer liability exposure to the security vendor. Regardless, I asked their training manager if they have ever audited the security contractors training program, the credentials of the trainers, or even looked at the training curriculum. The answer was no to all the above. He did mention that they have been using the same trainer for several years and he was a good guy, but that is not a defense. In this case this hospital had all sorts of use of force complaints, very poorly written policies, and little or no management oversight, all which added up to extreme liability exposure.


There is no doubt that the world is changing before our eyes, and violence is more widespread than anytime in our country’s history. As a result, security is front and center and it needs to be properly trained and prepared for what they might encounter.

Security is also gradually changing to more of a para-military operation, much like law enforcement did in the last 20 years. In fact, with an increasing frequency former police officers are getting into security management, and this often results in increased liability. I am referring to the fact that the former police officers are setting up their security departments to be very similar to the police. I have seen security departments wearing the exact uniform that the local police wear, and until you look at the badge you have no idea if you are talking to a security officer or a police officer. Be careful folks, there are a lot of wannabees out there that want to be the police, and if the average person cannot tell if they are the police or not, those security officers may get attacked like the police have been experiencing lately.

Perform your due diligence, understand your risks, determine your risk tolerance, establish the proper policies, know and understand the best practices that are available, and train your security staff continuously.

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