Self Defense and Use of Force

Anytime I get involved in a conversation regarding nightclub security consulting, one question always comes up:

“So…you teach bouncers how to beat people up?” Then the person laughs and says, “Just kidding.”…and proceeds to ask a ton of questions about how to beat people up. Or how many fights I’ve been in. Or what is the worst fight I’ve ever seen.

The boring (and unfortunate) facts point in the other direction. It is our job as security bloggers and nightclub consulting folks to teach bouncers how to NOT beat anyone up. Why? Uhm, well for one, it’s illegal to beat people up. And for two, it is the bouncer’s job to prevent people from getting beat up, prevent people from beating on other people, and avoid getting beat up by people themselves.

Most security staffers are curious as to what they are allowed to do verbally or physically when involved in a hostile situation. The answer is both simple and complex. Here is the simple part: SELF DEFENSE. And here is the complex part: SELF DEFENSE. How can something be both simple and complex? Well, the words themselves are pretty straight forward, but it is the interpretation and application of the words that is complex.

So let’s begin with a definition:


Pretty. Straight. Forward. You can protect yourself against unlawful bodily harm with a reasonable amount of force. That’s it.

In our first post, we discussed improper Use of Force. The improper Use of Force related to a bouncer applying a choke and throwing a patron. Let’s use the Use of Force model and apply it to Self Defense in a real world scenario:

You’re standing on the Dance Floor when a Patron bumps into you. Being the professional that you are, you apologize with a smile. The Patron says something rude about your mother’s bathing habits and shoves your shoulder.

What is the correct response?

A) You tell the Patron that shoving isn’t necessary and ask if everything is alright.

B) You call the Patron an asshat, shove them back, and walk away.

C) You grab the Patron by the arm, inform them that their prolonged attendance in your club is no longer desired, and escort them to the door.

D) You grab the nearest bottle, break it over their head, place them in a sleeper hold, and drag them out the door unconscious.

If you answered B or D, you need to find a new line of work and polish your conflict resolution skills. If you answered A or C you are at least on the right path. While B is an equal Use of Force, you have now continued to escalate the situation and are ignoring a potential threat by walking away. D is not only a ridiculous Use of Force, but will probably lead to Assault charges. Why? Because you did not defend yourself within the stated legal parameters. When physical touching has occurred, security may use necessary force to remove the Patron from the establishment, but may NEVER use excessive force. A shove does not dictate a chokehold.

And this is where the complexity of SELF DEFENSE rears its ugly head. If a situation arises in which you are forced to defend yourself physically, it is up to YOU to gauge your response. There may be witnesses or even videotape, but the burden of proof will come down to how YOU REACTED to the perceived threat. And in this day and age, we all know that even the most minor of improprieties can lead to lawsuits.

If a patron pushes you, that does not warrant a punch or choke. If they are coming at you with a broken bottle and screaming, “I’m going to kill you!” protecting yourself to the best of your abilities is the order of the day. IF your reaction would make a bystander react negatively, chances are it’s the wrong reaction. That means that you might need to get used to the idea of taking the occasional shove or even slap to the face.

The best form of Self Defense that you have is YOUR MOUTH. De-escalating a situation through the use of your verbal skills will not only prevent altercations but it will prevent lawsuits. Very rarely will you be sued for telling someone to settle down. However, punching someone in the face to keep them quiet will lead to litigation. Guaranteed. Think of this realistically: You are sober. They are drunk. Your reaction times and decision-making skills are (hopefully) superior to theirs. Use your brain and not your fists.

But hey, how’d you get yourself in this crazy situation in the first place?

Tune in next time for…SITUATIONAL AWARENESS!!!

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