Cinemark was not to blame for the 2012 shooting at its Aurora, Colorado, movie theater where gunman James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 more. A jury did not find a lawyer’s argument compelling that Cinemark should have provided armed security officers at the premier for The Dark Knight Rises because it was anticipating large crowds.
But should Cinemark have? Debates about armed security officers have flared up in the media and public discourse over the past few years. With the combination of a uniform and a firearm, armed officers may suggest a sense of security to the greater public, signaling that a business takes security and protection seriously. Others believe the presence of a gun merely stands to escalate dangerous situations.
The debate over the effect of firearms in such settings will not be settled anytime soon. But there are some things we do know about the consequences of arming security officers. Looking at it from an insurance perspective gives us a vantage to examine the risks and real-life consequences of arming security officers.
Demand for Officers
There are more than 1 million private security officers in the United States and about 650,000 police officers, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). After several years of steep increases in the number of security officers, the field is expected to grow by a steady 5 percent every year, the BLS estimates. Private security officers, more and more, are the face of security in the United States.
In some industries, such as healthcare, armed officers are a growing presence. Crime in healthcare facilities is a serious issue, so hospitals are looking to provide stronger security. The percentage of healthcare facilities that reported staffing armed officers in 2014 was almost double the rate four years prior, according to an article in The New York Times.
“To protect their corridors, 52 percent of medical centers reported that their security personnel carried handguns and 47 percent said they used Tasers,” the Times reported, citing a 2014 survey by the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety.
As discussed in a previous Security Management article, there’s been a pronounced demand for insurance for armed security officers at legal marijuana facilities. We can always expect there to be demand for armed officers at government facilities, though the demand at schools has decreased slightly.
Pros and Cons of Armed Officers
Many people perceive armed security officers favorably as a deterrent against violence and an assurance that a violent incident can be quickly quelled. From a client’s standpoint, it offers a perception of higher protection.
Armed security officers are widely accepted as warranted in certain locations where the threat level matches the use of force. Government contracts and high-profile corporate executives are protected by highly trained armed officers. At banks, the risk of robbery also justifies an armed officer.
But from an insurance and risk standpoint, it is difficult to craft a convincing argument for armed security officers in many settings. The presence of a gun is not proven to de-escalate a situation in every environment, and it is unlikely to deter violent and determined individuals. The presence of an additional firearm—even in an officer’s hands—only stands to increase the risk of casualties. This is particularly true of public or crowded environments, like stadiums, schools, and restaurants.
By looking at insurance claims, it’s clear that when a security officer discharges his or her gun, the resulting claims are serious. There is a big difference between an officer using mace and an officer using a gun. Claims resulting from the use of firearms are likely to breach insurance policy limits, so firms employing armed security officers are wise to purchase higher limits of liability than firms not employing armed officers.
When someone is shot by a security officer, his—or his estate—will likely sue the business that contracted the officer. And the security firm and officer are going to be brought into the suit as well—no matter how well-trained the officer. If it goes to trial, it is very rare for a judge and jury to believe use of the weapon was justified. It is almost always perceived as excessive force.
The insurance marketplace for security firms is very small, and employing armed officers reduces the market even further. This means firms that provide armed officers will be paying a higher premium for less coverage; they will most likely be relegated to the surplus lines insurance market, which can mean more policy exclusions. Therefore, it’s important for the security firm to weigh the increased costs and policy limitations of taking on an armed contract.
Mitigating Risks of Armed Officers
If a client insists on armed officers, there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of an officer discharging his or her weapon.
All officers should be checked against lists of individuals who are not permitted to carry firearms, in addition to the usual criminal background check. For armed posts, staff them with off-duty or former law enforcement officers; police receive extensive firearms training, as well as other training that helps them de-escalate challenging situations.
Consider local or state licensing requirements for armed security officers—they can vary by municipality. In some states, armed officers are not required to have special firearms training. For those states that do, officers and clients can be protected by ensuring that officers are trained to use firearms. Situational training, which is recommended for all officers, is particularly important for armed security officers as it teaches them to understand a judicious use of force for the environment they serve.
There are no easy, blanket answers to the question of whether to arm security officers. But looking at the risks and financial implications might help security leaders make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Tory Brownyard is the president of Brownyard Group, a program administrator that pioneered liability insurance for security guard firms more than 60 years ago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-645-5820.