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A loaded question.

A Loaded Question

TO ARM OR NOT TO ARM A security officer is a question many security professionals are faced with at some time during their careers - and one that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, even after careful evaluation. One consideration is clear, however - every organization has a moral and legal responsibility to provide a safe premises.

Opponents of firearms for private security personnel argue that the responsibility of security officers in most situations is to protect property. The introduction of a firearms into a confrontation escalates the situation, especially when the security officer has only minimal training, which is the rule rather than the exception. Proponents of arming private security personnel theorize that if an organization is requiring its security officers to protect life and property, shouldn't it also provide the security officer with the tools to perform effectively? Proponents also argue for the deterrent value of an armed security force. There is, however, no way to determine if an armed security force prevented an incident that an unarmed security force would not have prevented.(1)

A significant trend in the security industry has been an overall reduction in the percentage of armed security personnel. Many contract security firms discourage client requests for firearms on the grounds that they are not necessary and create liability and insurance problems. However, requests for armed personnel are granted when required by governmental regulation, organizations such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or assignments involving protecting large sums of cash or highly vulnerable assets.(2)

The following five factors should be taken into consideration when a company is faced with the dilemma of arming guards:

* Vulnerability. The degree of risk assumed by the security officer in carrying out his or her responsibilities and the degree of vulnerability the organization faces must be considered. For instance, the security officer on foot patrol at 3:00 am in a high-crime housing development is at a higher risk than the security officer monitoring a console in the lobby of an office building.

* Liability. Serious consequences can result for both employers and employees when security personnel are required to carry firearms - self-injury through weapon mishandling, injury to others such as innocent bystanders, and criminal or civil suits against both the employer and the employee as a result of those action.(3) There is no doubt that armed security officers create a much greater liability potential than unarmed security officers. If a security officer misuses his or her firearm or accidentally shoots an innocent bystander, a lawsuit is inevitable. However, proponents of arming security personnel claim that an unarmed security officer who is unable to prevent injury to an employee or a visitor might also create a liability.

* Caliber of the existing force. If your organization is opening a new facility requiring a security force or if you do not have an existing force, then this is not a relevant issue for your organization. Is your present staff mature, responsible, and stable enough to carry a firearm? Will it pass firearms training? What are current salary levels? The existing wages of your unarmed staff will be obsolete.

* Public relations. The public relations impact of a weapon on a security officer's hip is another factor to be considered. The presence of a firearm is a powerful deterrent to criminal activity but may also have a negative public relations value. The security professional must evaluate his or her own organization and determine the impact arming security officers would have.

* Cost. The final factor to consider is the added budget costs. Firearms, ammunition, holsters, and other accessories must be provided. What about bulletproof vests? How much will insurance premiums increase? And most important, consider the cost of preparing and running a firearms training program that will hold up if challenged by the courts.

An alternative to firearms might be the use of nonlethal weapon such as mace or a baton. However, the pertinent question in making a decision regarding an alternative weapon is: What is the chance of a security officer facing a perpetrator armed with a gun?

If, after all factors are considered, a decision is made to arm your security force, a firearms policy must be formulated (see the accompanying exhibit). The firearms policy must be clear, concise, and communicated to each security officer. The policy should set forth, in detail, the circumstances under which security officers may use their weapons in performing their protective duties. This step also provides your organization with a certain degree of protection from unnecessary legal risk as a result of a security officer's actions while specifying to each security officer what he or she may and may not do while carrying a firearm.(4)

The .38 caliber revolver with a 4-in. barrel is the security professional's weapon of choice. However, ammunition choices must be made based on individual needs. Another important decision is the holster. It is recommended that each security officer be provided with a holster that rides close against the body and that will generally prevent a perpetrator from removing the security officer's weapon. Many security officers have actually been shot with their own firearms after losing them to an assailant.(5)

If your security force is to be armed, your organization assumes the responsibility for proper training. Firearms training is critical when managing an armed security force. It cannot be looked at as a one-time deal but must be on-going. The curriculum should consist of classroom instruction as well as actual firing range drills and exercises. All armed security personnel should qualify on a firing range a minimum of twice annually.

To arm or not to arm is a serious decision that must be carefully evaluated. There is always a risk, but the decision can be based on one question:(6) Does the weapon provide a positive program benefit sufficient to offset the liability involved?

(1) Russell L. Colling, Hospital Security, 2nd ed. (New York: Butterworth Publishers, 1982), p. 146.

(2) William C. Cunningham and Todd H. Taylor, The Hallcrest Report: Private Security and Police in America (McLean, VA: Chancellor Press, 1985), p. 55.

(3) Report of the Task Force on Private Security, National Advisory Committee on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (Washington, DC: 1976), p. 107.

(4) Richard S. Post and David A. Schachtsiek, Security Manager's Desk Reference: Policies, Procedures, and Operations (New York: Butterworth Publishers, 1986), p. 241.

(5) Colling, p. 147.

(6) Colling, p. 150.

John K. Law, CPP,'is senior vice president with Colonial Security Service of New York, NY. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1989 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:to arm or not to arm a security officer; includes sample firearms policy
Author:Law, John K.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Nov 1, 1989
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