Printer Friendly

Keeping crises cool.


IN TODAY'S SECURITY INDUSTRY IT is imperative that security officers and security management know how to keep potentially violent situations from exploding. Managers or officers who know how to keep their guns in their holsters are more likely to enhance their department's image and help people.

Knowing how to handle other people and oneself in public is equally important. For example, in Greenfield v. Spectrum Investment Corp., 219 Cal. Rptr. 805 (App. 1985), an employee assaulted a customer over a difference in the amount of a deposit required to rent a car. The employer was liable for $350,000 in compensatory damages and $400,000 in punitive damages because the evidence showed that management knew this employee had a short temper and an "irascible nature." The employee pounded the customer on the head, dropped him to the floor, then repeatedly kicked and used judo chops on him. The customer suffered two fractures, one to his ankle and one to his rib.

In Potucek v. Zody's Department Store, Cal., Los Angeles Superior Court, No. C 302021, 30 ATLA L. Rep. 272 (August 1987), two customers received a $100,000 settlement because of an alleged assault by three security officers who allegedly broke the nose and teeth of one of the customers in a dispute outside the store. One of the customers had forgotten to pay for a hat he was wearing.

While the first case did not involve a security officer, there are many cases where a security officer or other employee has cost his or her employer thousands of dollars through lack of training or abuse of authority. Security managers and officers must be trained to manage aggressive or violent behavior and to give themselves the best possible defense in any action. Understanding how people react to crises and what can be done to defuse those crises is imperative.

A CRISIS IS AN EMOTIONALLY significant event or radical change of status in a person's life--a situation that has reached a critical phase. A crisis in hotel security could occur when a guest who shows up at 10 pm to a full house, and the clerk cannot find his or her name. To an airport security officer a crisis could occur when a person trying to catch a plane for an important meeting realizes he has forgotten to set his watch to the correct time zone. To a hospital security officer a crisis could involve the parents of a child who was just brought into the emergency room. A crisis can happen anywhere at any time, and a security manager and his or her employees must be ready.

Any number of incidents can cause a crisis. The following is a partial list of events that can have a direct impact on security officers:

* Alcohol or drugs. Persons under the influence of either alcohol or drugs can be inflamed with little or no warning. If there is cause for a dispute the intervention, if handled incorrectly can be dangerous to the officer.

* Ethnic differences. A good security officer will be cognizant of the differences and prejudices of people and will try to understand how that affects the way they perceive events.

* Cultural differences. As difficult sometimes as ethnic differences are cultural differences, which include the strong influences of the culture in which a person is raised. A current example is the Latin gang problem in Los Angeles. Teenagers are brought up in a culture where gang membership is common.

* Family problems. There is virtually no way a security officer or manager can have advance knowledge of these crisis-provoking problems. A woman who has recently experienced a divorce can experience a crisis if the former husband comes into the restaurant with his new wife. A man who has just lost his job can sneak on to an airplane and shoot his boss and then the pilot, causing many deaths.

For a security officer to respond correctly to a crisis, he or she needs to know several things. The prime concepts that need to be understood are those of personal space, territoriality, nonverbal communication, and body language. Understanding how to react is essential in order to reduce the possibility of crisis escalation.

One of the most important concepts for a security officer to learn is that of personal space. Generally, personal space is the area around an individual others are not expected to intrude. This area varies according to cultural differences, environmental differences, sexual differences, personal habits, and other factors. Personal space requirements differ for every person and are apparently not affected by other senses, like sight. A study conducted by Jeffrey Sanders and May Suydam at Towson State University determined that personal space requirements were not significantly different even for blind individuals. Other studies have shown that in children, personal space decreases with greater familiarity and increased liking. Exceptionally large distances have been found in studies of violent offenders and particularly small distances have been found in persons who have committed victimless crimes.

Personal space is an area that can be as close as 18 in. for intimate contacts and as far away as 12 ft. for public distance; however, between 18 in. and 4 ft. is the usual accepted space. Security officers, when intervening in a potential crisis, must respect this personal space. Intruding on it can, in and of itself, cause an escalation. Personal space extends itself behind a person as well as to the front and sides. In fact, significant problems can occur when a person is approached without warning from behind or from the side. Peripheral vision will give a person some warning, and his or her reaction is usually fast--a reaction that can be misinterpreted by the approaching officer.

Territoriality is an extension of personal space that must be understood as well. Territoriality is the domain that a person has set for himself or herself. A person's territory can be unconnected and unique. A person has territory at home, at work, and at play, and these territories may be separated by long distances. Depending on how an officer enters a person's territory, it can be a useful tool in crisis prevention. In negotiation with a violator, recognizing his or her territory and allowing him or her the option of inviting the officer inside can result in a satisfactory resolution to the problem.

Nonverbal communication, another important concept in crisis resolution, is not so much what is said but how it is said. Studies have shown that only 15 percent of what is communicated to another person is verbal and the other 85 percent is the tone of what is said. In message delivery the three following concepts must be considered:

* Rate. If an officer is scared, he or she may be inclined to speak faster. If speech is too slow, lack of interest could be interpreted. Maintaining a good moderate rate of speech is important.

* Tone. The messages that are sent by tone include anger, resentment, meekness, assurance, or a positive or negative attitude. Maintaining a tone that shows concern for the other person is desirable.

* Volume. Officers should maintain a volume that is neither too loud for the situation nor too quiet to be heard.

The term body language describes the signals people send with their bodies. Facial expressions, eye contact or the lack of it, posture, hand gestures, proper use of touch, and appearance are all forms of body language. Facial expressions such as the set jaw can indicate determination, wide staring eyes can indicate surprise and wonder, and the set of the mouth can send messages of disbelief, concern, or comfort.

Consistent eye contact must be maintained, both to assist in crisis resolution and for personal safety. Eyes can show empathy, concern, and sympathy, but they can also show hate, disrespect, and lack of concern. Good posture is extremely important to the security person because it sends a message of total body attitude, confidence, and authority. Bad posture or slouched shoulders can indicate lack of concern, lack of confidence, or lack of authority. Another message posture sends, if the officer is not careful, is "I am tough." Remember that this and other messages are sent before a word is spoken.

Hand gestures can have a tremendous effect on a crisis. Dealing with people with palms-up motions instead of palms-down motions is generally more therapeutic. People react more positively when there are no surprises or threats of surprise. Officers standing with their hands behind their backs can create the appearance of a threat because the position may suggest the officers are hiding something.

Touch may be necessary to assist a person through the crisis. Extreme care must be used by the officer if this is necessary. If the person is of the opposite sex, particular care should be taken. Also remember that in order to touch, it is necessary to get inside that intimate space of 18 in., and that the officer had better be invited or a rapid escalation of the crisis could occur.

The final consideration is appearance. Professional-appearing haircuts, personal cleanliness, and neat uniforms are all important image-producers for dealing with people. The first impression an outfit creates is the primary factor to consider when decisions are made about types of uniforms and styles of dress. Shined shoes and military creases display attention to detail, confidence, and professionalism.

A SECURITY OFFICER ON DUTY IN A hotel notices a man sitting in the lobby who appears nervous and who has been there on several previous rounds. He or she notices that the man is fidgety, that he cannot maintain eye contact with the officer, and that the ashtray next to him is almost full. This man is displaying the first signs of crisis escalation.

At this point there are at least two options for the officer. The first is to help this person, to approach him in a friendly manner, and ask if he or she can get him a fresh ashtray. If the person says yes, the officer should do so. He or she can now ask if there is any other way to help him. The officer is being supportive and showing empathy and concern. The man may relax and tell the officer what is wrong and give him or her a chance to help. The officer has alleviated the customer's concern and, quite possibly, helped establish a lasting relationship between the hotel and the customer. Another important consideration is that other people in the area will be impressed with the way the problem was handled.

The second scenario would be for the officer to approach the man and ask him what he is doing there. The man could do two things: He could answer the question in a civil manner, or he could get defensive and abusive. This is the point at which most officers lose control of the situation. The proper response to defuse this crisis is to set limits and still be supportive. The proper use of good manners at this point could be essential to controlling this situation. The officer can say, "Please sit down and let me try to help you. I noticed that you were a little nervous, and I want to help if I can." On the other hand, the officer could say, "Shut up and sit down. I'm not going to hurt you." These totally different tactics will have totally different outcomes.

The first scenario could produce a de-escalation of the incident, while the second could end up in a fight. The next step in crisis escalation is the physical manifestation of the crisis. An officer could be struck and, if not properly trained, can hurt someone or get his or her employer sued. For example, in the case International Security Corporation of Virginia v. McQueen, 497 A.2d 1076, (D.C. App. 1985), two security officers approached an elderly lady who was waiting for a bus to Florida, suspecting her of being a thief, and asked her for her bus ticket. When she demanded their names and badge numbers, she said, she was pushed into the waiting area and "karated" to the floor, causing hip and rib injuries. A jury found against the security company for $60,000.

Learning to manage crisis episodes and violent and agressive behavior will give a security manager and his or her officers another tool to prevent lawsuits and enhance the security image. All responsible managers should ask themselves the following questions:

* What are my officers trained to do?

* What are they likely to do under pressure?

* If the scenario turns physical, are they likely to attempt to de-escalate the situation? Are they trained to do so?

* Is their form of force equivalent to street fighting? Will they use karate or judo? Will they use a baton? Will they use a weapon at all?

* Have they been trained to use weapons? By whom?

* Was deadly force justified? Did the officer know it? How was he or she trained?

* What is the security department's position?

* How should officers react to this kind of a situation? What can go wrong?

Security managers and clients of contract guard companies should address this issue immediately. How security officers respond to crises is as important as how they prevent them.

Wayne C. Church, CPP, CHPA, (Certified Healthcare Protection Administrator) is the director of safety and security at John C. Lincoln Hospital and Health Center in Phoenix, AZ. 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.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Church, Wayne C.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1989
Previous Article:The contentious problem of key control.
Next Article:Can we get it together?

Related Articles
Crisis communication: if it had a precedent, it wouldn't be a crisis.
Communicating in a crisis.
Ready for Your Next Crisis? (Commentary).
Saving Our Teen Drivers.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters