Nightlife establishments proliferate across our country and are wonderful places to gather and socialize. But regardless of the specific nature of a nightlife establishment – tavern or pub, music or dance club, nightclub or lounge, etc. – and regardless of its size or sophistication, the combination of alcoholic beverages, crowds of people, and the loss of inhibitions that often accompanies alcohol consumption creates an environment conducive to all different sorts of behaviors, some of which will at times demand security attention. So some kind of security plan and program is necessary.
(For purposes of this article, “security plan” will generally refer to the outline of the overall strategy developed by an establishment to protect the business and its patrons; “security program” will generally refer to the practical implementation of the plan.)
But regardless of the nature of the security plan in place, an incident will undoubtedly occur which will challenge that security plan. We are a litigious society – virtually anyone can sue virtually anyone else for virtually any reason. And while a proprietor is not required to guarantee the absolute safety of patrons, he must be able to demonstrate that his security measures were reasonable, adequate and sufficient in relation to foreseeable risks. In reality, a proprietor can’t do anything to guarantee that he won’t be sued; but there is much he can do to significantly reduce the chances of a legal challenge being successful. So a security plan is essential (a) to provide the framework by which an establishment protects itself and its patrons from inappropriate behaviors and criminal acts, which then leads to a sound business; and (b) to protect the proprietor from legal claims alleging that security was not adequate or sufficient. And (a) and (b) are equally important.
It should be noted here that, except in those jurisdictions where bar security measures have been formally codified and/or enacted into law, there are really no bar security standards (“standards” defined as measures which are universally accepted, practiced and promulgated). This is because each establishment has its own unique set of circumstances which must be taken into account when developing its own security program – there is no “one-size-fits-all,” “everyone-does-it-like-this” kind of security plan. Each establishment’s security plan will be different, tailored to its own specific needs and based on a process which has been generally been recognized by court decisions from across the country. So rather than relying on fixed “standards,” a bar security plan should be developed using an assortment of guidelines and best practices from a wide variety of sources to best meet its own particular needs.
So a security plan must not only exist, but it must be developed, implemented and managed such that it is “legally defensible” – that is, an establishment must be able to demonstrate that its security program was developed in a way which consciously took into account the potential threats and risks that might be encountered; the various methods and strategies available to counteract those identified threats and risks; and then took those countermeasures and strategies and implemented them in some formalized manner.
Without getting into unnecessary statistics, there are some that should be kept in mind by bar proprietors:
In simple terms, the kinds of incidents that are most likely to occur in bars frequently result in lawsuits; and those lawsuits cost bar owners and their insurance companies lots of money.
This article is not intended to be a comprehensive treatise or training program on bar security. Rather, it is simply intended to make bar proprietors aware of the steps they need to take into account when considering their security needs. Those steps are as follows:
Security Management – Some person(s) with education, training and/or experience and competence in security should be utilized to perform critical tasks of needs assessment, plan development and implementation, personnel selection/hiring/training/supervision, and ongoing plan assessment (this is a specialized area of expertise which has potential legal consequences).
Needs Assessment – A formal analysis/review of critical issues should be done to reasonably determine threat/risk foreseeability and to identify commensurate countermeasures (what are the bad things that are likely to occur, and what can be done to mitigate those bad things).
Plan Development and Implementation – After threats/risks and commensurate countermeasures have been identified, an appropriate plan should be developed to assure implementation of the security program (it is not sufficient to think about security issues – something must be done).
Policies and Procedures – Formalized policies and procedures relating to the security plan should be
developed for training/reference, situational guidance, as well as for legal defensibility (if the plan is
not in writing, it will be hard to prove it exists in a court of law).
Documentation – Everything related to the security plan and to security issues and incidents should be
documented for ongoing security program assessment and for legal defensibility (a history of prior
events is always reviewed when considering whether security was appropriate).
Physical Security Measures – Appropriate security countermeasures to be considered should include
things like CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design), doors and locks, windows,
lighting, cameras, alarms, signage and patron ID and scanning equipment, for both inside and outside
the establishment (the presence of security “stuff” is often a viable deterrent to inappropriate behavior).
Personnel – If security personnel are to be included as part of the security plan, a process should be
developed to assure proper selection, hiring, training and supervision of competent personnel (the size
of security personnel is far less important than their competence).
On-Going Plan Management – A security program is a dynamic process that should be regularly
assessed and managed to assure continuing adequacy and sufficiency and to meet changing needs (the
program cannot be implemented and forgotten – conditions change).
Incident Response – Plans need to be in place to deal with the types of incidents which are most likely
to occur (prevention and deterrence are important, but there must be a plan to deal with problems when
As stated previously, nothing that a bar proprietor can do will absolutely guarantee that no security incidents will occur or that the proprietor will not be sued. And since it is likely that a security incident will eventually occur based on the very nature of such establishments, it is critical that the issue of security be carefully considered as part of an overall business strategy. Sound security planning is the cornerstone of a safe and successful bar business.
Jon C. Paul, CPP
joncpaul at aol.com