Navigating Nightclub Security in Today's Litigation-Driven Society

Photographer: Gio Alma

Stuart Salomon knows a thing or two about nightclub security and the law. As a law enforcement instructor he has held or holds such titles as lead defensive tactics instructor, reserve deputy, deputy sheriff, and patrol sergeant. Salomon also has an impressive list of certifications and instructor training from organizations such as the National Law Enforcement Training Center, Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (US Department of Homeland Security), Glock, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, and Heckler & Koch, among many others. He also has an impressive nightclub resume, including Aura and Macs Lounge.

Salomon tackled the sticky issue of nightclub security in a society that’s proven we’re not afraid to call the lawyers for just about anything that rubs us the wrong way during the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas.

Front Door

Since the first person a guest sees and interacts with is likely your front doorman, let’s start here. Your front door personnel can either make or break your nightclub. Therefore, it’s crucial that a front doorman dress appropriately, carry himself well, and be able to identify a nightclub’s key clientele. It’s preferable that he wear a suit and tie to appear professional. Of course, he should be professional, balancing authority and firmness with setting aside his ego. Of critical importance is his knowledge of your customer base and ability to recognize the key players. He has the toughest job in the house, make no mistake about that.

Because of the difficulty of his job, your front doorman must have support. If you have the resources, have 2 doorman at the front door – one lead, one backup. Ensure that your front door is in clear communication with outside security or, failing that, that outside security is close by and able to react and respond immediately. VIP hosts and managers should also be in direct communication with the front door. On the topic of communication, use only closed systems like discreet earpieces rather than “open” speaker radios. For speed and ease of use, make sure that guest lists are organized alphabetically on an electronic device.

As with any position, expectations are more easily met when they’re clearly spelled out to your staff. A simple and effective way to help the front door shape your crowd and learn who you want to be let into your venue, communicating your dress code is critical. How someone dresses to begin their evening is an indication as to who they are, at least in nightlife. Make sure that your front doorman or doormen know that you don’t want them to permit someone who is out of dress code to adjust at your door or leave to change and then return to your venue.

Inside Security

The front doorman may have the most difficult job but inside security has plenty to deal with inside your nightclub. To make sure you have the right people providing security inside your nightclub, let’s start with hiring and appearance. Whether we like to admit it or not, size matters when it comes to security, authority, and keeping an incident from starting or escalating. It is, of course, up to you whether you want to hire personnel with police or military experience. Bear in mind that such employees tend to follow orders well. Martial arts experience is also up to you, as there are pros (the ability to take care of themselves, knowledge of holds that control a violent patron, etc.) and cons (their willingness to fight, their ability to seriously hurt a patron, etc.). Once you’ve hired security personnel, make sure they dress in a uniform manner that communicates their role in your establishment. A black jacket, black or dark pants, and a black fitted T-shirt do the job very well, as a blazer looks professional.

The equipment your inside security staff is permitted to carry is of the utmost importance. The radios they use must feature high-noise microphones. Yes, they’re more expensive but they’re certainly worth the high price. Under no circumstances should security personnel use the old-style Maglite flashlights. Instead, equip them with small flashlights that really can’t be used as weapons. No OC (oleoresin capsicum) spray (also known as pepper spray) should ever be permitted inside your nightclub. In reality, except for very special circumstances, no weapons of any sort should be allowed to be carried by any of your indoor security.

So, what happens when inside security encounters a patron who should be ejected from your nightclub? If you’re utilizing commissioned security, the law states that they “typically have power of arrest on private property.” Non-commissioned security relies on so-called “trespass laws.” It is your responsibility to know how the laws read in terms of removing a problematic patron.

Now, how should inside security handle the removal of a patron that refuses to leave?

  • First, they should try to talk them out: “Let’s just talk outside for a moment.”
  • Never eject someone with only one doorman.
  • They should go hands on only if all else fails.

And if a fight breaks out?

  • Approach a fight with multiple personnel (2 doormen for each fighting patron, preferably).
  • Attempt to identify the aggressor.
  • Security personnel should be trained to do everything they can to refrain from taking someone to the ground.
  • Fighting parties should always be removed through separate entrances and exits, if possible.
  • Should anyone who needed to be forcibly removed from your venue require medical attention, first aid should be offered and, if accepted, rendered.
  • Your staff should know that they should never strike a patron. Even in self-defense, a strike is going to cost you money!
  • Defending against lawsuits cost money, and attorneys bank on you settling if there’s an injury because a member of your security personnel struck a patron.
  • Juries respond favorably to plaintiffs that are smaller than your security personnel and who have broken facial bones, swelling, and/or black eyes.
  • A plaintiff’s friends will lie for them! And camera phones tend to only tell half of the story.
  • Striking is usually only “ok” when defending against any sort of weapon.

Let’s revisit taking a problematic patron to the ground:

  • This tends to be a horrible idea inside of a nightclub.
  • Because there can be glass on the floor, going to the ground should be avoided.
  • Additionally, other patrons can deliver cheap shots to your personnel or the patron being taken down when both are on the floor.
  • One of the only instances in which it’s permissible to take someone to the ground is if they have a gun, they’ve been asked to leave, and they reach for their waistband or otherwise for their firearm.

On the subject of firearms:

  • Remember that there are a lot of people with CCW (Concealed Carry Weapons) permits out there.
  • If inside security is alerted to the possibility that a patron has a gun, or if a member of security thinks that a patron has a gun, it should be determined whether or not outside security should be called in to assist.
  • The person who may have the gun should be approached by multiple members of your security staff.
  • A simple way to approach the situation is to say, “We don’t permit CCW in here, please take the weapon out to your car,” and then deal with them outside.

As you’ve likely determined by reading that long list of issues that you and your inside security personnel will face, training is absolutely crucial. Document your training sessions, ensure that qualified people are conducting training with your security personnel, and be incredible careful about your staff is being taught. Salomon also made it clear that when you write incident reports, any records you keep can be subpoenaed and used against you in a lawsuit to attempt to prove the following:

  • Lack of proper security.
  • Lack of training.
  • History of violent incidents.

Outside Security

As you may have guessed, the next topic of discussion is your outside nightclub security. The first thing you must realize is that you’re not only responsible for the inside of your nightclub, you’re responsible for the areas surrounding it. That means all of the parking lots around your club, the sidewalks, and even your neighbor’s property whenever your guests are on it. It may not seem fair but you will be held responsible by police for anything that happens around your venue. If it seems like we hit the word “responsible” a lot here, it’s not an accident.

There are 2 approaches to outside security that you can take. One is police officers or sheriffs. They’re more expensive but they’re typically better trained than security personnel employed by security companies. Another fantastic benefit is that they come with the full power of arrest (including arrests on public property), detainment, and transporting. However, some off-duty police officers or sheriffs will have to be reminded that working for your nightclub means that they’re still required to work; they make be off-duty but they’re on your clock. On the other side of that coin, don’t ask them for “favors,” let them do their jobs. Better still, hiring off-duty law enforcement officers tends to help you build a good relationship with your local police and politicians.

On the other hand, you can hire an outside security company. They’re typically more affordable than hiring off-duty law enforcement but also receive less training. Bearing that in mind, try to find a company that uses former military personnel, former law enforcement officers, or perhaps police. In Salomon’s opinion, outside security must be armed, their holsters must have retention (a minimum of level 2), must carry OC spray, and they must wear consistent or professional uniforms. It’s your responsibility to make sure that whatever company you hire has current commissions and insurance, and that they have power of arrest on private property.

Local Authorities

If you own a nightclub you should plan on being visited by various agencies, law enforcement and otherwise. Salomon suggests the following in order to make sure things go smoothly for you:

  • Never deny Liquor Control entry at the door.
  • Never deny police entry. You will lose this fight.
  • Always be polite to police called to your venue for a fight or other incident, even if they’re being condescending or lecturing you or your staff.
  • Don’t attempt to argue your case too hard to patrolman or sergeants. Instead, wait until the next day when everyone is experiencing less stress.
  • When you’re around police officers, never lose your cool.
  • Finally, if you feel as though you’re being harassed, bring it up to commanders and don’t be afraid to pull stats if they’ll help your case.

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