In Dangerous Times, a Better, Smarter Bouncer Could Be the Difference Between Life and Death: Op-Ed

Patrick Crowley

Robert C. Smith, a former San Diego police officer, has trained more than 10,000 bouncers through his Nightclub Security Consultants, which he founded in 1998. The only firm offering specialized training for the alcohol service industry, which he calls HOST (Hospitality Operations Security Techniques), his clients have included mega-club Space in Ibiza, Spain, and The Standard in Los Angeles. Six years ago, HOST began including training in terrorism awareness. In light of the tragedies at Paris' Bataclan in 2015 and recently at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, Smith is advocating for the dire need for better-trained bouncers. "In the aftermath of these mass attacks, bouncers are on the frontlines of protecting customers at their respective establishments, and it’s essential that they be provided with the tools and training to help them do their dangerous and occasionally deadly jobs," says Smith.

In an exclusive essay for Billboard, Smith writes about the industry's dire need for change -- or "accept deadly and sad consequences."

Nearly 18 years ago, while working as a San Diego police officer, I was forced to arrest a bar bouncer for punching a drunken customer in the face.  The drunk went to the hospital and the bouncer to jail. I continued my work as a police officer and researched security guard and bouncer training nationally. What I found was terrible.

All states in our country had generic security guard licensing that required generic training that taught guards to “observe and report” instead of how to engage people safely or solve problems and issues.  Most of these programs were created in the 1950s and ‘60s and were designed for the solitary night watchman who was expected to be a deterrent and not a protector. Armed with this information, I created a job-specific training program designed for a security guard protector.

In 1998, our curriculum covered important points that any new police recruit would be taught along with many bouncer-specific tasks.  We included topics such as customer service, communication skills, legal use of force, citizen’s detention, recognition of fake identification and more. The program grew from eight to 12 hours and in 2011 a new California law went into effect mandating that bouncers receive 16 hours of job specific training and also be state registered.

I was convinced that other states would follow California’s lead. I was wrong.

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Although the city of Des Moines, Iowa, wrote a simple municipal code mandating that bouncers be trained and registered, and Providence, R.I., legislature passed a similar law in 2009, I saw very little progress related to bouncer training on the state level. And when states did address the issue, they fell terribly short.

Hawaii, for example, simply wrote a new clause adding “bouncers” to the list of jobs that are deemed to be security guard positions.  The state was already requiring 8 hours of generic training for security guards and now mandated “bouncers” receive the same generic training.

In Louisiana, lawmakers classified bouncers as alcohol servers and mandated they receive the same three hours of responsible alcohol server training plus two hours of conflict resolution training.  Bouncers don’t serve alcohol. They police people who’ve been served too much, so how this helps them do their jobs is unfathomable. I also know of no training facility that supplied the mandate conflict-resolution training. That amounts to a large and potentially dangerous waste of time for the state's bouncers.

There’s more. In Oregon, bouncers were also added to the generic security guard job category, and as a security guard, the bouncer must now obtain 14 hours of generic training -- training that teaches them to call police rather than get involved and solve the problem in safe, professional fashion. Oregon security guard licensing law also contains a nebulous “Moral Fitness” clause, which requires guards to be honest, of good character, to treat others fairly, have the public trust and respect state and national laws.  When I asked who determines if a bouncer is morally fit, I was told it’s determined by a background check, department investigation or other reliable sources.  I know of no other state or country that has any sort of “Moral Fitness” requirement.

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In New York, after several serious incidents at the hands of club security, including the 2006 murder of Imette St. Guillen by a bouncer who worked at the SoHo bar where she was drinking, the state swiftly mandated cameras for any of the 200 or so “cabaret” liquor licenses.  Additionally, the state classified bouncers as security guards and as such were required to get a full criminal background check and complete eight hours of generic training and 16 hours of on the job training.

These state laws, although enacted with good intentions, left me shaking my head. Each jurisdiction had a tremendous opportunity to design and create real, job-specific training that could help prospective bouncers and management keep communities safer. Instead, quick, easy and uninformed generic training fixes were used; ones that pale in comparison to the federal standards for security guards that the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other countries have created to truly protect their bars, clubs, pubs, restaurants and other liquor licensed venues.

Our country is still reeling from the murder of 49 people who were gunned down at Orlando's Pulse nightclub, but the memory of the 130 who died at the Bataclan in Paris is fading. In the aftermath of these mass attacks, bouncers are on the frontlines of protecting customers at their respective establishments, and it’s essential that they be provided with the tools and training to help them do their dangerous and occasionally deadly jobs.

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I’m praying that our state and industry leaders don’t opt for the quick generic fix this time.

In the weeks and months to come, bouncer training will be a top concern. Questions surrounding what should be done will be asked. The answer is simple: job-specific training.

Training topics such as how to diffuse an argument; how to safely and legally break up fights; and how to recognize when an underage person or, possibly, a terrorist, is using a Chinese fake ID at the front door. They should understand their employers’ civil liability in terms of their customers, when and how to legally search or detain a patron. This is training that far exceeds any state generic training program currently in existence.

One last topic that must be included in any bouncer training curriculum: emergency situation responses.  There are many emergency issues that could arise at a bar or club, from a simple fall to an alcohol-related sexual assault, a guest injured in a fight or our nation’s current fear -- the active shooter.

Training bouncers to adopt the new mantra of “Run, hide, fight” is essential in dealing with that last situation, particularly the “fight” part. I firmly believe that the body counts would not have been as high in Paris or in Orlando if employees, especially security employees, had been taught to fight back.

The larger, more daunting task for all of us, will be to retrain our guests and a generation of young people that running and hiding is now nearly always a death wish in active shooter incidents.  The concept of having to fight for your life while visiting a bar or nightclub is sobering and scary, however, we, as an industry must accept the challenge to change or accept deadly and sad consequences.