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Authors note: I am a nightclub security expert witness. I've never worked in a bar. What qualifies me as an expert is my decades-long experience in security management. Security personnel are known under many different titles such as, most commonly, bouncers but they are also called ushers, greeters, door men, crowd control specialists, etc. The truth, however, is that there are basic tenants to any security program, regardless of business environment, and bars and nightclubs are no different with the exception of alcohol. Bouncer = Security.

Alcohol-fueled guests present a variety of issues that can ultimately lead to serious injury or death. Litigation or law suits follow these incidents and the club is generally poorly prepared to defend themselves in court.

I am providing some insight into the common areas that I explore as a nightclub security expert when working for the plaintiff's attorney. This should not be considered legal advice. Always consult with your attorney on security matters. Hopefully this will assist in preparing a workable security plan.

Introduction

From an expert witness's point of view, the issues cited within law suits against clubs are fairly universal thus the following is an overview of the hiring, training and supervision of security personnel in the night club business. Use this information as a guide when considering the security management aspects of your club. One size does not fit all and therefore managers must consider facets of their business that may be unique. The context of this article is based upon common areas of litigation that results from an incident at a club or on their parking lots. There is no protection from a person suing a club however it would be comfort to your attorney in knowing that the critical areas usually reviewed by a plaintiff's expert witness have previously been explored.

A nightclub bouncer, regardless of the job title, is simply a security guard in a specific environment. A security guard, however, has met minimum state-required training and a criminal background check to be certified to conduct those duties. Unfortunately, some states do not require training or background checks. Regardless, the authority vested in the individual security person is no different than that of any ordinary person. Said another way: Bouncers and security guards have limited authority for an actual arrest and their ability to use force in making that "arrest" or "detention" is extremely narrow.

A bouncer is known by many titles in the nightclub and bar industry but the job title is unimportant. Their job function, however, is. Their primary functions may include age verification, crowd control, dress code enforcement, intervener in altercations, first aid, and, in some cases, ejecting certain patrons from the establishment for causing disturbances or fights. The manner by which the security staff accomplish their job duties is critical.

The security function in any organization requires reasonable hiring practices, adequate training and, above all, adequate supervision. The following are offered as guidelines for the establishment's owner/manager and/or management of club security. These are offered only as guidelines which can be considered when developing a security plan. There are no industry standards therefore the club, itself, creates their own standards. This is the primary reason for having a documented security plan.

Hiring Guidelines

  1. Formal Application. A written application that asks for references, job history, and asks if the applicant has been convicted of any crime (other than traffic offenses) for a specific time frame. A common time frame is 7 years.
  2. Background check. A background check should be conducted on every potential employee. This may include calling references and conducting a criminal check. Regardless of what a company's "background check" process is, the same method must be followed and should be consistently documented. Failure to conduct a backround check may result in hiring a person who has been repeatedly fired from previous similar jobs or the hiring of someone with a violent criminal history. These omissions may expose a club to liability in the event of a law suit.
  3. Job description. It should never be assumed that a person applying for a job knows the expectations of an employer. A bouncer may have had a previous employer who had their security personnel take a very aggressive approach with customers. That may not be appropriate for your particular clientele or vice versa. Create a written job description, train to those requirements, and place a signed copy in their personnel file. If new duties are created, have a document for signature outlining changes in responsibilities. It is recommended that all job descriptions and subsequent changes contain the date created/revised.
  4. Skills. A bouncer's strength and commanding presence should not be the first line of defense. Their ability to communicate and attempt to defuse and de-escalate situations will be used more often. There are recognized barriers present such as loud music, poor lighting, and, of course, the person(s) involved are probably intoxicated, impaired on drugs or both. Clubs also serve a mixture of alcohol and energizer drinks which may cause a patron to be easily agitated. In short, the use of force should be the last resort, not the only resort.

Appropriate skills for security personnel:

a. Good listener
b. Focus on customer service
c. Firm but fair approach
d. Calm under stress
e. The ability to control emotion in potentially volatile situations.

Security and Safety Planning

. . .Continue to read rest of article (PDF).

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J. Patrick Murphy has over 35 years of experience in Law Enforcement, Security Management, and Corporate Loss Prevention. Mr. Murphy's background as a Fortune 50 company security director provides a strategic view of operations, security planning, and liability. His continuing education in the area of security case law and his unique approach to investigating cases make him a valuable Security Expert Witness to any litigation team. His hands on approach and advice during the discovery phase of the case can often be pivotal in determining the ultimate outcome.

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