Should the 50s attitude of observe & report be dead?

by todaystrainingblog

If it isn’t, it should be. And here is one of the reasons why; A few years ago in Seattle, a young woman was beaten and stomped in front of three security guards who made no move to intervene, citing they had standing orders to not get involved but rather observe and report. Was there any legal, moral, or ethical justification for not getting involved?

This is yet one more episode where the observe & report mentality is used as justification by security companies, their clients, or companies to do nothing but stand around with their proverbial thumbs up their noses. To stand around and do nothing while someone is killed or severely wounded crying for help is both morally & ethically wrong. And what would have happened if they had intervened? Probably gotten fired.

If you look at the headlines across the country in recent years you’ll notice a plethora of incidents where a security officer, store clerk or other person, fought a robber to a standoff and chased them away. Then the business fired them for not following company policy or protocol. And while it is normal procedure to give the robber what they want, is it the right thing to do?

I’m not asking security officers or anyone else, to become the moral & ethical police. We have enough to do already with the duties and responsibilities that we are tasked with. Nor am I saying that officers should go off property for any reason, unless lives are at stake. But as I stated last year after the verdict against U.S. Security Associates of Georgia, observe and report is outdated and doesn’t work anymore.

But since it is still around, and causing consternation amongst myself and some of my peers, I thought to bring up the argument again. And yes it is an argument no matter what anyone may say. It is outdated, outmoded, and there is only one reason for it to be around. Liability for the contractor & client/company.

The argument comes in because contractors don’t want more than an observe & report mentality from their officers. I believe that there are several reasons for this;

  • They don’t trust their officers to do the right thing. Which directly relates to training, pay, & selection/recruitment.
  • The contractor may get sued if the officer does the wrong thing in the situation for which they may not have been specifically trained. Hmmm kinda relates to the above
  • They lose the contract for doing something the client doesn’t want done on or off property, even if it was the right thing to do. Again, kinda relates to the other 2 dudn it? And this is the big one…not losing a revenue stream even if it violates moral & ethical concerns.

Clients don’t want more than an observe & report mentality either for just about the same reasons. They want an insurance break. And if the officer does more than the normal observe & report then they can be sued by …whoever may want to. And in our overly litigious world today, even the delivery man 20 miles away may want to sue because they’re scared because of what the officer ‘caused’ and may do while they are on site.

As I have stated several times in the recent past this mentality of observe & report MUST be executed and buried for all time. As security professionals it is up to us to change this somehow, some way. And do it before an incident like San Bernardino, Paris, or Brussels occurs again in this country.

We need to start thinking as if we’re under siege in a war. Not saying that we need to hunker down, arm our officers and police with Uzi’s, and have armored vehicles patrolling the grounds or building. But we need to get our officers better trained and stop treating the security field, at least for those at the bottom, as a stepping stone for something more.

If you read my post a couple of weeks ago about the Israeli model of private security and the model of security in the United States, you can clearly see what needs to be done.

It is a matter of the 3 things above, recruitment/selection, training, & pay, and not the old fashioned warm body syndrome that we absolutely must avoid.

But because of the competitiveness of the industry, which hasn’t changed in the 33 years I’ve been in it, it will always come down to who does it cheaper and with fewer problems to bring to the clients attention than a competitor. One of these days, I postulate that in the next 5 years or so, we will regret that mentality. And unfortunately, it will be regret, born of the body count or financial resources that were lost. And because, usually, they couldn’t see past the $$$$ signs.


Robert D. Sollars is a recognized expert on security issues, specifically workplace violence. He’s spent nearly 33 years in the security field. Visit his Facebook page, One is too Many, where you will read about other items related to security & WPV issues. Or be a twitter follower at @robertsollars2.

               I May be Blind but my Vision is Crystal Clear