I recently delivered back-to-back 90-minute lectures to three groups of New York City high school teachers on preventing violence from erupting in their classrooms. Amazed at the statistics regarding the size of the damage awards that have been paid out by the city arising out of negligent security claims against its public schools, the groups began to perceive the nature of the problem from a new perspective: that of a litigant.
While it is common for plaintiffs in school violence cases to direct their claims against the school system, educators across America are nevertheless considering the purchase of liability insurance to insulate them from security negligence claims directed against them personally. Concerned over potential litigation, teachers and administrators are focusing on how to they might avoid those situations from which violence evolves. Educators are being trained to examine proactive measures which they can use to avoid disruptions and thereby reserve more precious time for teaching. In the process they are learning to protect themselves and their students from the dangers of disruptive classrooms.
Next month, my audience will be New York City police officers, many of whom are assigned to crime prevention and anti-terrorism duties. Police officers are performing the important task of teaching the public crime-prevention techniques so that citizens aren’t only more aware of dangers around them but can also employ security techniques to protect themselves. It is vital that police officers providing crime prevention services also recognize their legal responsibility to provide information upon which the public can rely. Offering security advice, particularly at a time when there remains a high risk of terrorism, requires that the advice include both the benefits and limitations of the actions advised — and any issues of legal liability that may exist as well. For that reason, an understanding of the concept of security negligence should be provided to these men and women who need to understand the risks inherent in their advice to others.
Private Security Evolves
By necessity, private security — whether engaged in by classroom teachers who are duty-bound to protect the children in their charge, or functioning to protect United States Government and corporate assets in Iraq — has had to develop levels of competence that in the past were usually the charge of public law enforcement or military personnel. As a result of the recognition given to security personnel as a first line of defense in the protection of our infrastructure both at home and abroad, and the important roles being played by these individuals in protecting life in high risk communities (including active combat zones), we have come to accept their authority and expect excellence in their performance.
More and more, the lines that traditionally existed between the authority and performance of public and private security officers have become blurred. In everything from uniforms and weaponry to the power to detain and arrest, “deputized” civilians are assuming vital roles in protecting us from acts of terrorism, natural disasters, and conventional criminal activity. With this greater authority has come a need for better training and the development of an up-to-date regulatory process to ensure that this newly-found authority doesn’t degenerate into an abuse of public policy when it comes to policing our society.
Business and Individual Responsibility
Corporate America after 9/11 sought to augment existing security forces and equipment with the latest techniques and products available in the market. Some decisions were made without sufficient consideration to the reasonably foreseeable risks to company assets, including personnel, infrastructure, and property. In the period since 9/11, some organizations have rolled back their security investments for better or for worse.
When considering the panoply of potential disasters from so many possible sources, it is understandable that a business may opt to focus on familiar bottom-line items rather than on cost issues seemingly impossible to measure. But the two need not be mutually exclusive. Managing the risks of crime and terrorism — as well those from natural disasters — as part of basic business management techniques can be undertaken more easily than imagined if assigned to individuals trained to do so. In this era of sophisticated security, training programs for risk managers has become readily available from a wide variety of sources.
Private security is no less important on a personal basis. In the face of recurrent threats of danger from sources that are capable of altering our daily lives dramatically, adults must be prepared to provide family and personal necessities when the power goes out, when mass transit comes to a halt, when the phones and ATMs stop working, and when the water stops running. We must also train our children to survive under the same conditions and in the absence of adult family members, or any reliable adults at all. Much of this kind of training derives from common sense and self confidence. Some of it can be learned and improved through practice drills.
For each of us there is a program to fit out special circumstances. For private security to be effective on an individual basis it must become a basic life skill that is learned early and repeated often to develop confidence in ourselves and competence in our performance.
Private security has indeed come of age; we need to embrace it.