Use of Force in Security

Seattle Police Use of Force to calm a riot.

Seattle Police using force to calm a riot.

With the growing number of Use of Force incidents between police and citizens, one would wonder how these confrontations play out between citizens and private security officers.  I can assure you that these confrontations are more common than you think. Security officers risk confrontations with citizens at a much higher rate for two reasons.  First, security officers in the United States outnumber police by more than 3 to 1, making it much more likely for them to interact with people.  Secondly, security officers face more physical confrontations when challenging people on security issues because people disregard them as authoritative figures.   The high probability of use of force incidents for security officers highlights the need for regular “Use of Force” training.

Upfront security training cost can be overwhelming for many small security companies, so some skip it altogether and pray for the best.  However injuries, lawsuits and even death are a very real part of the security profession. The cost in legal fees, court awards, settlements and public relations for even the smallest security incident can be astronomical. And the best remedy is a well written “Use of Force” policy and training program to mitigate damages and protect all parties involved.

What you should know about the Use of Force 

Experts agree that there is no single definition for the use of force.  “Use of Force” is best described by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) as “the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.” Experts also agree that the force used should be the “minimum amount” of force necessary to get the subject to comply.

Security officers are sometimes strapped to the teeth with weapons and equipment. However, throughout my 30 years of law enforcement and security management I have learned that the most reliable and effective weapon a security officer can have is between his/her 2 ears.  Therefore, I recommend that security officers learn to rely on all their natural senses (ears, eyes, and nose) when responding to potentially volatile situations. Those senses have saved my life a million times and when used correctly can save your life and the lives of others as well.

When approaching a suspicious suspect security officers should first use their sense of vision, being sure to watch the suspects’ actions, movements and hands. Officers should use their sense of smell to detect the possible use of chemicals, drugs or alcohol and should be listening to what the suspect is saying or what others may be saying about him/her. Using your senses, experience and intuition can give vital clues of what a person may be thinking, if they may be influenced by some type of drugs, their mind state and if they may be armed.  Once officers can diagnose the scene to his/her satisfaction, I recommend approaching in manner and direction that offers them the greatest protection.

The 5 standard best practices for “Use of Force” consist of the following

  1. Officer Presence — Is the very first level in the Use of Force continuum.  No force is used and is considered the best way to resolve a situation. I regularly share with my security officers the importance of presence.  Not in a sense of just showing up but more on how they show up. A professional presence does a lot in situations that demand control.  I believe that taking pride in your uniform and appearance is key.  A confident, well-groomed officer with a neat uniform and shined shoes often does the trick. We’ve all have seen the officer on the opposite end of the spectrum. We also know that that no one is going to take a security officer serious, if he/she doesn’t take themselves serious. With officer presence:
  • The mere presence of a officer works to deter crime or diffuse a situation.
  • Officers’ attitudes should be professional and nonthreatening.

2. Verbalization — I was once told that words were magic. Saying the right thing at the right time and in the right manner can talk a man off of a building and saying the wrong thing can make him jump. With verbalization, the security officer must use judgement and empathy.  A good way to calm an angry subject is with a simple greeting that explains your purpose for the encounter. For example, “Hello sir or ma’am. I am officer “John Black” (or whatever your name is), I am responding to a call to investigate… (Whatever you got called for). Done professionally this often calms many angry people down. The use of empathy here goes a long way.  The alternative method is bound to cause you some problems. For example, “Sir, we’ve received 15 calls regarding you, what seems to be your problem?”  If the ingredients are right whatever his problem was, will now more than likely be your problem too.  Remember, tact and judgement is always best, your verbalization should progress according to the situation.  Many situations will call for firm authoritative verbal commands from the beginning. Never be afraid to be forceful and assertive when you have to.  According to the Use of Force Continuum the following should occur when using verbalization:

  • Issue calm, nonthreatening commands, such as “Hello sir, May I see your identification and registration
  • Officers may increase their volume and shorten commands in an attempt to gain compliance.
  • Short commands might include “Stop,” or “Don’t move.”

3. Empty-Hand Control — This is the third level of  “Use of Force” in the continuum. If you find yourself here, the first 2 steps may have not worked out as you planned but good officers are always well prepared and well trained. At this level security officers use bodily force to gain control of a situation. There are 2 techniques that gives officers the advantage and I highly recommend their use.

    • Soft technique. Officers use grabs, holds and joint locks to restrain an individual. It should be noted that Chokeholds of any kind should be avoided at all cost. Unless of course your life is in jeopardy, then lethal force including a chokehold would be authorized. However, I caution you that should the suspect die as a result of  your use of a chokehold you or your witnesses must be able to clearly articulate that your life was in imminent danger. Failure to do so may end you up in jail for a long time.
    • Hard technique. Officers use punches and kicks to restrain an individual.

4. Less-Lethal Methods — This level of force is necessary when the first 3 didn’t do the trick.  Officers must be ready to go the next level to protect themselves and others from imminent bodily harm or death.  Officers may use less-lethal technologies to gain control of a situation. A few of the standard less lethal weapons are listed below:

  • Blunt impact. Officers may use a baton or projectile to immobilize a combative person.
  • Chemical. Officers may use chemical sprays or projectiles embedded with chemicals to restrain an individual (e.g., pepper spray). Remember to NEVER use OC spray inside of a closed building and be prepared to provide 1st aid after its use.
  • Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs). Officers may use CEDs to immobilize an individual. CEDs discharge a high-voltage, low-amperage jolt of electricity at a distance. (See Deciding When and How to Use Less-Lethal Devices. )

5. Lethal Force — The last level of use of force involves the use of lethal weapons (firearms) to gain control of a situation. Lethal force should only be used if a suspect poses a serious threat to the officer or another individual.

    • The national accepted law is – lethal force may be used to protect yourself or another from death or imminent serious bodily injury.
    • Officers don’t have to meet force on force (i.e a person has a baseball, a baton isn’t the appropriate weapon). In such an instance it would be much better to first to create some distance between you and the threat, seek cover and scale to your firearm to defend yourself.  The determination if lethal force will be used then depends on the action of the suspect.
    • When using the lethal force officers should remember to aim at center mass of the body, be sure of your target and what’s beyond and be prepared to give medical attention after such force is used.

It should be noted that Use of force does not have to start on the 1st level or progress through every step of the continuum.  Many use of force incidents are split second life or death decisions. Officers must be able to gauge the severity of each situation and apply the level of force in the continuum either comparable to the suspects actions and demeanor or one higher.  Officers can also de-escalate the use of force scale by utilizing negotiating skills (verbal judo).  There is no magic formula for security officers but the key is to be reasonable in  the decision making if the force is to be just.

That’s all I have until next time.  Look for more informative and exciting post from me.  Take care and be safe.


Melvin Key – CEO

Certified Protection Professional

MVP Protective Services