Should security officers be armed in a hospital situation? The place where people come to get better is also a high risk area open to the public. The webinar, The Debate over Arming Security Officers in a Hospital Situation, presented byJim Sawyer, Director of Security Services for Seattle Children’s, discussed the advantages and disadvantages of arming security officers in hospitals, how to provide authentic customer service and what it means to be “zero tolerance” versus “zero incidents.”

“Is violence preventable?,” Sawyer asked. “In most cases, yes, it is. Yet, only 1 in 5 employees report it.”

Sawyer discussed the relationship between alcohol and guns, that heavy drinkers are more likely to be violent. Yet, most people with gun permits are decent people, he noted.

The one mistake that is made about workplace violence is minimizing the potential for violence when it’s right in front of us, Sawyer said. “We don’t take it seriously. If you profile the average violent person, it’s someone who is a white male, is loner, may have drug history, who hates authority and boundaries, and who will drift from job to job. Is this always accurate? No, it’s not, but there are some characteristics that are common that you want to teach your staff.”

Sawyer also discussed the signs of violence, including pacing, finger pointing, sweating, and breathing changes, and again, urged attendees to teach staff these signs. He also discussed the Rule of 5, which is to use 5 words in a sentence and 5 letters in a word that he believes will de-escalate a violent situation.

Sawyer named verbal warning signs of violence, which includes:

  • Threat of suicide or self-harm
  • Intimidating others
  • Commentary about hurting animals
  • Talks of seeing red
  • Boasts about prior violence

Nonverbal warning signs include:

  • Finger pointing
  • Heavy breathing
  • Making fists
  • Sweating
  • Standing toe to toe
  • Staring at you
  • Flaring nostrils

“Look for clusters of these behaviors,” Sawyer said, “Four or five of them, and if see that cluster, take action.”

While Seattle Children’s does not arm its security officers, Sawyer discussed the advantages of arming them in a hospital situation. “Advantages include stopping an active shooter, as active shootings have gone up; the fact that an armed presence can increase staff confidence; and if done right, you can build high-quality security officers.”

However, Sawyer said that disadvantages include the liability that is associated with arming officers, the possibility a gun being stolen, high training costs, and increased record keeping. “Your training for security officers will have to rival that of police officers,” he said.

“In addition to 300 hours annually of training, you must provide de-escalation training, as well, because if you hand someone a gun it changes the environment’ it can intimate a patient or it can anger them. Look at the crime around your area, and consult with your local law enforcement. Talk to area local hospitals and your peers, do a risk assessment, hire carefully and look at paying those armed security officers better,” he said. “Finally, have your legal counsel vet your training program and your policies and procedures.”

What can be done instead of arming an officer? “Take a zero incidence philosophy; or consider a mix of policies such as having a licensed police officer on site, particularly within the ER; and develop strong 911 ties,” Sawyer said. “If you do arm your security officers, consider the parking lot and the ER, as crime in those two areas is on the increase.”

Read Jim Sawyer’s 12 Methods to De-Escalate Violent Situations here

View the webinar on demand here