In a new Solutions by Sector webinar presented by SECURITY and SDM, Jim Sawyer, director of security services for Seattle Children’s Hospital for more than 30 years, recommends that every progressive security team should adopt a “zero incidents” philosophy. A “zero tolerance” philosophy is having a strong response after an event; whereas, zero incidents emphasizes prevention to make sure there is never an event in the first place. “I think that’s the optimum standard that every security team should work towards,” Sawyer says. “You can build a philosophy that endorses a therapeutic work environment where you absolutely have no events.”

Sawyer is a crime prevention and personal safety presenter, a nonviolent crisis intervention certified instructor, a member and presenter with Homeland Security, and a president and past president with the Washington State Crime Prevention Association. The webinar, “Zero incidents versus zero tolerance: Achieving a violence-free environment through verbal de-escalation, optimum customer service, and intuition,” can be viewed here.

In this webinar, the speaker’s experience and philosophy combine to offer practical, actionable information that security teams can use immediately to recognize someone who is at high risk for losing control — such as life factors, verbal signs and non-verbal behavior — and how to de-escalate such situations if they rear up. He offers both verbal and non-verbal dos and don’ts for security officers to use with people whose behavior seems to be escalating towards a violent act.

Some of the factors in a person’s life that could trigger an event are divorce, mental illness, debt, foreclosure, alcohol abuse, job loss, post-traumatic stress, and others. “Assume everyone you work with and interact with, there might be something going on in their life that might be causing them a huge amount of stress that might induce them to lose some rational control.” The two most common factors that indicate a person may be at a high risk for violent behavior are an untreated history of violence and alcohol abuse. Alcohol use is involved in more than one-third of all violent crimes, Sawyer notes.

Make a good first impression with people you interact with to help de-escalate tension, build rapport with an individual, eliminate any preconceived notions that security is “the enemy,” and provide officers the opportunity to assess a client. “How you stand, talk and interact with an individual is going to impact how they stand, talk and interact with you — kind of like a non-verbal dance,” Sawyer proposes.

In this webinar, he examines the eight most high-risk areas of any workplace, included the human resources office, parking lots, areas where isolated staff work odd hours in remote areas, stairwells, main entrances, any place where cash is handled, reception desks areas, and loading docks.

He talks about using intuition as an element that can help contribute to zero incidents. “It’s of sentinel importance for security staff to hone, honor and listen to their intuition,” Sawyer relates. There are five ways a person’s intuition will speak to them: heart rate, perspiration, nauseousness, feeling indecisive, and hair rising on the neck.

One of the cardinal rules you should teach all staff about workplace violence prevention is: Under no circumstances will you ever meet an angry individual one-on-one in an isolated area – never! Among the other elements Sawyer recommends including in your de-escalation training are not over-reacting, not taking anything personally, and not “pushing other people’s buttons.”

According to some statistics, there are 16,400 threats a day made against U.S. workers in the workplace, he says. Some of the verbal warning signs of violence are suicidal commentary, threats, boasting of prior violence, confused ideation, pathological blaming, slurred speech, inappropriate (nervous) laughter, fascination with weapons, and others. Staff should be aware of these verbal cues and take them seriously.

Among the non-verbal signs of impending violence, personal space violation is No. 1. “Teach people to respect personal space boundaries and drive home the idea that a personal space violation can be a precursor to an assault,” Sawyer advises. Teach staff to watch people’s hands (finger pointing, knuckle cracking and clenching fists) as well as staring (or the opposite — avoiding all eye contact), and things such as looking around for witnesses, looking for exits, and more.

Train your staff to look for clusters, which are three or four behaviors both verbal and non-verbal. If multiple behaviors are showcased, the greater the risk, he says.

In verbal de-escalation there is a term called “The Rule of 5.” When dealing with an individual who is beginning to lose rational control, use five words in a sentence and five letters in a word. For example, “How can I help you?” or “We can make this work.” Keep it short and simple. It will help bring the person down to a baseline where you can work with them, Sawyer notes.

He examines some of the ways in which security can assist someone who is a victim of domestic violence such as changing their transportation (giving them bus passes or taxi vouchers), changing their work hours, giving them personal escorts, providing “safe housing,” working with law enforcement and more.

“If you have a person of concern that you think could harm one of your staff members, share that information with the right staff. Don’t silo the information thinking it’s a confidential private matter that should never be shared.” Put out a watch list with a picture of the person who doesn’t belong.

In this webinar, Sawyer reviews both verbal and non-verbal dos and don’ts that security teams can use to de-escalate a situation. For example, do say a person’s name, speak slowly, use the rule of 5, use “restatement for clarification” (paraphrase what the person has said), and ask if you can take notes.

Don’t say, “I know how you feel” or “calm down.” Don’t allow more than one person to address an angry person. Don’t raise your voice. Don’t meet an angry person one-on-one in a remote area. Don’t use ill-advised humor, and avoid “my way or the highway” ultimatums.

Non-verbal dos include giving your undivided attention, stand at an angle 5 to 7 feet from an individual, always have your hands open and in plain view, maintain respectful eye contact, and move slowly.

Non-verbal don’ts are: never violate a person’s personal space; never roll your eyes with an adult — it sends people off; do not point fingers; do not stand toe to toe; don’t get in a stare down; never look at your watch or answer your cell phone; never turn your back; and never make a fist.

Sawyer ends the webinar with some best practices to help your organization build a zero incidents program:

  • Require annual de-escalation training for all security services staff, as well as front desk and management staff.
  • Create/have in place a domestic violence response staff support team.
  • Maintain the ability to readily run background checks on people of concern.
  • Lobby your company to have a policy on workplace bullying.
  • Make your workplace weapons free.
  • Have a threat assessment team that has the ability to convene within 8 hours after an incident.
  • Consider license plate cameras that capture the plates of every vehicle entering your facility.
  • Be proactive and consistent about contacting and trespassing people of concern.
  • Share information to keep your staff safe.
  • Report all direct threats and veiled threats to the police.
  • Teach all staff to document incidents.
  • Report and remove graffiti from your property within 24 hours.
  • Sensitize yourself and your team to the question, “Are we a just culture?”

To view the webinar, visit: