THE IMPORTANCE OF DE-ESCALATION TRAINING IN A POST-LOCKDOWN WORLD
In early April, three women physically attacked a security officer at a Macy’s in Palo Alto, California. When asked to return stolen goods the women punched the officer in the face and the head and assaulted him with pepper spray. Similar situations have become all too common for security professionals, particularly as people struggle to adapt to a new hybrid environment after two years of lockdowns, heightened stress and increased economic pressures. With this spike in aggressive behavior, security firms are faced with new challenges and risks involving the safety of their employees and the success of their business.
Security professionals face risks every day. In hospitals, restaurants, airports, office parks and shopping malls, a normally calm situation can quickly escalate. When rising tensions and aggressive behavior are added into the equation, the risk to security firms and their employees can increase significantly. These risks can include:
- Employee Safety: Over the past two years security professionals were asked to take on new and added responsibilities, including asking for the vaccination status of members of the public attempting to enter certain facilities, enforcing mask mandates and limiting access to various venues or facilities. In some of these situations, members of the public directed their frustrations at security personnel tasked with ensuring their safety and the safety of others. In more than a few instances, these situations turned violent.
- Insurance Risks: From an insurance perspective, the biggest concern with aggressive behavior is the liability associated with bodily injury claims. if an officer is not trained to de-escalate a confrontational situation and the perpetrator turns to violence, a physical altercation can result. Similarly, if the officer is armed with a weapon (such as a firearm or baton) and pulls that weapon, these types of situations can quickly get out of control. If the perpetrator also has a weapon serious injury can occur, involving the perpetrator, security personnel and even innocent bystanders. In such situations, the claim might allege the officer used unnecessary force and could be sued for assault and battery. This is showcased in several recent lawsuits against the LA Dodgers for alleged assault, battery, false imprisonment, violation of civil rights and emotional distress by the team’s security force.
- Reputational Damage: With increased use of and access to the internet over recent years, people can easily acquire video footage and photographs of altercations between security officers and perpetrators. Additionally, the internet has democratized access to editing software that allows situational embellishments, and even the creation of what are known as deep fake videos designed to alter the public’s perceptions of an issue or situation. This puts security firms and organizations at risk for reputational damage if footage, legitimate or otherwise, made it look like the security offer was the instigator in an act of violence.
Finally, as in any state, California has specific rules, regulations and trainings that security officers need to be aware of. Security officers are required to physically witness an accused criminal conduct a misdemeanor before arresting them for said crime, leaving little room for error. There is also risk in not keeping up with such regulations. For instance, AB 229 is currently being debated as it seeks to change training requirements around use of force. If security professionals do not follow rules and regulations or keep up with important changes, they put themselves and their organization in jeopardy of compromising safety that can result in damaging litigation and costly fees and fines by the state.
Managing the Risks
The risks outlined above can damage a security firm’s reputation and financial situation. They can also compromise staff retention if employee safety is compromised. Here are some tips security firms can take to help mitigate risks involved with aggressive behavior.
- Utilize de-escalation training: The most important tool in any security officer’s arsenal is de-escalation training. Experts can counsel security professionals on how to use proper body language, redirect or remove people from a situation, show empathy and more. Security firms should consider having such specialists work with their employees regularly to train new officers and review de-escalation tactics with seasoned officers.
- Be strategic about firearm usage: Before arming officers, security firms should discuss the implications of carrying firearms or other weapons. While security officers can carry firearms in California, it is only when they are on the job. If an officer were to use their weapon while off duty the security firm would be at risk for litigation. If arming officers, security firms should thoroughly screen all employees with background checks and psychological evaluations. Organizations should also consider utilizing firearm training, in addition to de-escalation training, to minimize misuse. At Brownyard we strongly counsel our insureds to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of arming employees.
- Follow all rules and regulations: As laws and regulations change, it is important to have the proper training and avoid fines and litigation. Joining a state association, like CALSAGA, can help security firms stay current with changes and new rules that result from state legislation.
There is no guarantee a situation will stay calm, even with proper protocols and de-escalation training. Having insurance coverage is important to protect a business and its employees from litigation and financial fallout. While having coverage is important, having the right coverage can mean the difference between success and ruin. For many insurance companies that don’t specialize in the security industry, a standard general liability policy will have restricted language limiting assault and battery coverage to “reasonable force” while firms that specialize in the security industry will broaden this language to “physical force” and while the difference is subtle it does make a significant difference when de-escalation steps do not work and your firm is faced with an assault and battery claim.
The past two years have increased tensions among the public and security guards alike. Local officials, business owners and even taxpayers have called for more work by private security, and such firms have been asked to take on new, unique responsibilities. While there is risk involved, these responsibilities can become opportunities for security firms with the right training and insurance protection in place.
Tory Brownyard, CPCU, is president of Brownyard Group, an insurance program administrator with specialty programs for select industry groups. In addition to his responsibilities as president, he currently spearheads the Brownguard® security guard insurance program.