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Security officers

Security workers and the law: Who protects the protectors?

Steve Johnson, writing on behalf of Working the doors, uncovers the lack of protection in place to prevent violence against security professionals – despite the physical, verbal and mental distress that so many officers receive on the job.   

Steve-JohnsonThe first dawn of 2019 was bitterly cold. Security guard Tudor Simonov was working outside a private New Year’s Eve event at Fountain House in Park Lane, part of London’s affluent, fashionable West End.

At around 5:30AM, a young man attempted to gain access to the building Simonov was guarding. Simonov did his job and prevented the man from entering, only to be brutally attacked by several of the would-be intruder’s friends.

On January 1st, 2019, Tudor Simonov was fatally stabbed, leaving behind a devastated girlfriend, as well as family, friends and colleagues.

The tragic incident above speaks directly to the sense of impunity that attackers seem to have when assaulting security personnel. It is an extreme example, to be sure, but a valid one nonetheless.

People who would harm security staff do not seem to fear recourse in the same way they might when attacking, for example, a police officer – and this is precisely because UK law does not adequately protect security personnel.

Section 89 of the Police Act 1996 deemed any assault of a police officer punishable by a fine of up to £5000, or else a sentence of up to six months in prison. The numbers have doubled since then.

On the other hand, there seems to be no specific law that protects security personnel.

In fact, security guards have no more legal rights than any member of the general public. Ergo, if a door supervisor is attacked while at work, UK law essentially views this as being an assault made by one citizen upon another.

However, this is demonstrably not the case. The door supervisor is, by the very nature of their occupation, in harm’s way. Security personnel in general are undeniably targets for violence. They are also responsible for the safety of those they are guarding.

“Of those security operatives questioned by researchers, 64% said they suffered verbal abuse at least once a month, with 50% saying that it happened once a week. 43% were being threatened with violence once a month, and 10% being physically threatened on a daily basis. Meanwhile more than 30% had experienced a direct physical assault while in the performance of their duties.”

In fact, security operatives have physical responsibilities that far exceed those of the vast majority of other professions, yet they have no specific protections from the law as they discharge their duties.

It may be fairly argued that security guards are not police officers; that the two professions differ greatly in terms of their respective roles, responsibilities and proximity to dangerous situations – and that this explains the discrepancy in the laws that protect them. That’s fine, but shouldn’t security staff have some protections?

Why have security officers been left unprotected?

On 13th September 2018, just a few months before Tudor Simonov’s murder, the UK Government passed the ‘Assaults on Emergency Workers Act’. This groundbreaking legislation explicitly extended protection from assault to police officers, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue workers and NHS health services staff (including volunteers).

Security Guards

The act doubled the maximum sentence for assaulting a person working in one of these fields from six to 12 months, as well as encouraging Britain’s courts to consider the strongest penalties available even for lesser crimes committed against the personnel named by the act.

However, aside from those employed by hospitals, security personnel were not included anywhere in this law.

The argument for their inclusion is certainly worth hearing. Security staff are frontline workers. They are vital to the smooth and efficient operation of Britain’s night time economy (worth roughly £60Bn a year to the UK economy overall).

Security operatives guard public streets, shopping areas and transport hubs, as well as important locations such as government buildings, airports, courts and more. They transport dangerous prisoners and valuable goods. They are also trained professionals, regulated by – and ultimately answerable to – the Security Industry Authority (SIA).

“The danger is increasing”

Security personnel protect the British public in innumerable ways every single day. Now the government needs to return this favour, because the danger faced by security operatives is increasing.

According to the UK Home Office, figures for the year ending March 2020 showed a 6% increase in crimes involving knives or sharp objects. The most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates suggest that there were 1.2million incidents of violence occurring in the two countries in the year ending March 2020 – a figure that has seen no significant changes since the year ending March 2016.

Rising crime statistics were part of the reason that the new legislation was introduced, suggesting that a) said legislation has yet to truly take effect as a deterrent and that b) the need for security workers to receive increased protection under this law still exists.

MentalHealth-CitySecurity-20This need has never been greater, because just as the threats they face are worsening, so the long-term effects of those threats are becoming more visible.

In 2020, researchers at the University of Portsmouth unveiled a study showing that thousands of UK-based security guards are currently suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after finding themselves targets of frequent abuse, both verbal and physical.

Of those security operatives questioned by researchers, 64% said they suffered verbal abuse at least once a month, with 50% saying that it happened once a week. 43% were being threatened with violence once a month, and 10% being physically threatened on a daily basis.

Meanwhile more than 30% had experienced a direct physical assault while in the performance of their duties.

These findings speak directly to a general lack of security firms’ ability to deal with issues of threats and violence before they become debilitating to the sufferer (and, potentially, to others around them as well).

Put simply, the issue doesn’t appear to be generating much interest within the security industry at all. It is, however, a very serious problem.

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Criminology Professor, Mark Button, one of the leaders of the study, directed his criticism toward this particular area, saying: “With almost 40% of those surveyed exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, it leaves a very clear message that the issue of mental health is not currently being taken seriously by security managers. There is an emerging picture of a failure by the security industry to address these issues.”

These problems are not merely confined to the present day, either. As a Finnish study, conducted in 2010 revealed: “Risk for fatal or physical violence is increased in jobs involving interacting with the public, exchanging money, delivering services or goods, working late at night or during early morning hours, working alone, guarding valuable goods or property, and dealing with violent people or volatile situations.”

Most of which appears to match the job description of the average security guard.

If greater legal ramifications were present, not only would this act as a deterrent to would-be attackers, it would also encourage more victims of violence to come forward, thus creating an industry-wide dialogue that could better bring these issues to light – and ultimately closer to resolution.

Legislation isn’t the only solution

As these studies show, it isn’t just legislative action that is required. The issue of security staff’s exposure to violence can also be combated by procedural improvements on the part of security companies throughout the country.

If managers undertook better risk assessment practices, for example, it could lessen their employees’ exposure to violence and other dangers. This would ensure, among other things, that security guards are not posted in insufficient numbers; a move that, by itself, may discourage violence as well as reduce stress among their employees.

A better reporting process will also create a mechanism for improved communication between staff and management. Ensuring that all incidents of threat, verbal abuse or physical violence are noted down and properly reported will also create a credible timeline of events that could better lead to conviction in the more serious cases.

Security staff should be encouraged to take every threat seriously and not simply ‘shrug it off’. Belittling the threat, or the person issuing the threat, does not diminish the danger presented – in fact, it often exacerbates it.

Additionally, many security firms could benefit from collaborating with their clients to create a list of potentially dangerous or disruptive people. Banning these people unequivocally from entering the premises under any circumstances could see those move on entirely. Such a strategy is a potentially massive risk reduction factor in and of itself.

In conclusion, granting security staff the same legal protections as other front-line workers named in the Assaults on Emergency Workers Act will not entirely prevent incidents such as the murder of Tudor Simonov.

Incidents of violence against security staff will persist. Sadly, potential exposure to violence is – and will likely remain- a part of the job.

By the same token, assaults perpetrated against paramedics, police officers, fire fighters and NHS workers will continue as well. No amount of legislation or parliamentary debate will ever abolish such actions utterly. However, these incidents are likely to decrease as a result of legislation designed to protect other front-line staff.

The question being asked here is not why security personnel need extra protection, that’s hopefully academic at this point. The question is ‘why don’t they have it already?

Steve Johnson writes here on the behalf of Working the Doors. Working the doors started in 2003 as a forum for bouncer and door supervisors. It has since evolved into a blog, with information, reviews and news stories from the security industry, with the main focus being door supervisors and security guards.

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