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Event security: 7 best practices to prevent or stop violence

If you are working an event where nobody is taking the possibility of violence seriously, don’t let their attitude change your level of awareness and preparation

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Police officers stand along the Las Vegas Strip the Mandalay Bay resort and casino during a shooting near the casino, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas.

AP Photo/John Locher

Before the carnage in Las Vegas on October 1, there was no box on any threat assessment checklists for a senior citizen sniper positioned in a hotel high above a country music festival. While leaders, tacticians and analysts study the Las Vegas attack to look for trends, precursors and lessons learned, it is never too late to review your policy and practice regarding event security.

1. Accept the threat reality

The chance for some easy overtime at a fun event can overshadow the seriousness of an unlikely but worst-case scenario. While there are resources allocated for Presidential visits and Olympic-sized events, the ordinary graduation ceremony or local high school football game is going to be understaffed. Organizers may believe there is no threat, or that “too many cops would look bad.” If you are working an event where nobody is taking the possibility of violence seriously, don’t let their attitude change your level of awareness and preparation.

2. Keep your eyes on the threat

If you’re fascinated by the VIP speaker or the basketball game, you might want to take a different event security assignment. The action may be on the stage, but the threat is going to come from elsewhere. Face the crowd.

Don’t get sidetracked by requests for help that don’t relate to your mission. If you have a post or specific area of responsibility, stay on task. Refer routine service requests to on-duty staff.

3. Use your force multipliers

You might be working with private security whose level of training and alertness will vary. Make sure you make contact with them. Let them know how to contact you, and encourage them to observe and report diligently.

Folks working the parking lot or admissions booth should get the same attention and message from you. Let them know how to contact you and encourage them to trust their instincts in reporting suspicious behaviors.

4. Get intel

Your regional fusion center may have information on threats related to VIP speakers or controversial groups scheduled to perform in your area. Some managers or promoters may have information about stalkers or recently disgruntled staff.

Know what the patrol strength of the on-duty officers is in case you have to call in the cavalry. What is the likely response time for fire, EMS or mutual aid units? Double check that dispatch and the on-duty patrol supervisors know about the event. Having a plan for a command post, triage area, staging points, media management and even a landing zone can prevent confusion among responders.

5. Scout out cover and concealment

Surviving an initial attack is important to the success of response and recovery to a violent outbreak. You may be compelled to stand and draw fire away from civilians or do some other heroic act of sacrifice, and I wouldn’t talk you out of it. But accept the fact that living to provide information for arriving resources, providing aid to other survivors and not being a victim requiring rescue are all morally compelling reasons to live. Get to cover that you’ve already determined as available.

6. understand Spontaneous vs. planned violence

Be aware of potential weapons of opportunity should a fight erupt. Events tend to homogenize emotional responses in their audience. Watch for the expressions and body language of individuals or groups that are incongruent with the crowd. Look for signs of weapon concealment such as rolled up newspapers, closely guarded packages, and stiffness in blankets or cushions. If something strikes you as odd, follow your instincts until you find out why.

Use wise crowd control techniques. Avoid any confrontations until you have enough personnel to 1) take down or remove a suspect and 2) to watch the crowd while officers making contact have their backs exposed.

7. develop Policy

Talk with your leaders about enacting ordinances or policies requiring pre-planning of events in your community that include a safety plan and minimum police staffing. Encourage training and practice of standard incident command protocols. Engage in pro-active interactions with event promotors, athletic directors and organizations that sponsor large events and festivals to ensure fun and profitable community activities. You and your department will own the headlines if tragedy strikes, so always plan ahead.

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.
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