"Arms Up, Sir"


A recent article by Steven Downes in the Eastern Daily Press spoke of how a journalist experienced a number of anger-inducing encounters with private security personnel searching him on the way into a variety of venues.

His words were shared amongst the social networks, particularly amongst peers within the industry; many of whom are critical and dismissive of his views. But I think he may have a point.

Mr Downes gave a very illustrated account of his experience at the Emirates Stadium and the Norwich Beer Festival. He described, “Thick orange lines of unsmiling stewards whose jobs seemed to make innocent people feel guilty”.

He continued, “Glowering, grunting, pointing, patting down, search bags”.

Whilst, as a security professional, I feel that there is a need for effective search procedures at events, it is an important means of deterring and detecting hostile or terrorist acts. That said, there is no reason why this should result in experiences like those of Mr Downes at football stadia, or public events.

All of us, including security professionals, have the ability to be accommodating, hospitable and pleasant; there is no good reason for us to not to use these skills when going about our work.

We must all accept that security is going to get tighter as the threats we face grow on a daily basis. Whether from terrorism and extremism, or from an acid attack, it is much easier to accept increased security when those new measures are positively executed.

I have been involved in a number of major security projects over the last decade, including senior management roles within a premiership football club and the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. Each of these involved effective search procedures, and in each case it was more effective to go about it with a smile: to greet the individual, and to thank them for their cooperation.

In my opinion, this makes the process not only a less overbearing experience for the person being searched but also enables the steward or security officer to effectively determine whether someone poses any threat to the venue they are charged with protecting. For example, It is unlikely that a terrorist would want to positively engage with a security officer before embarking upon his (or her) mission.

Beyond that, I feel that this is only part of the process and the venue management has a duty to manage customer expectations by making their visitors aware of what security measures are in effect, why they are in place, and explain how this benefits the visitors themselves. When visitors understand what security is in place and why it is there, it is much less likely that they will be offended.

With good security planning and professional security personnel that are prepared to smile, accommodate and engage positively with the public, security need not be overzealous. Then, experiences like those of Mr Downes will not become a feature of modern life, irrespective of increasing security.