Searching – Best Practice

All extracts are taken from the “Safer Doors” book. Published by Geddes and Grossett. Copyright laws apply.

Door supervisors working at licensed premises have no legal or statutory powers to search any person. Under no circumstances can they forcibly search anyone. The manager or licensee of the premises can, however, make it a ‘condition of entry’ that people wishing to enter consent to being searched by the door team prior to being allowed in. This is usually done to prevent items that are not allowed onto the premises from being brought in, as a method of protecting the venue, its staff and customers.

Such items would include :-

  • Illegal drugs
  • Offensive weapons
  • Other unauthorised items (ie incendiary devices, fireworks, laser pens, paint-sprays, alcohol)

Preventing such items from being brought into the premises reduces the chances of serious harm to customers and staff, and reduces the likelihood of the licensee being prosecuted.

A condition of entry simply means that customers may be allowed to enter the pub or club on the condition that they allow the door staff to search them. If they refuse to consent to such a search, then they may be and should be refused entry.

If the licensee or manager authorises such a condition, then it is good practice to display a sign outside the premises explaining this to all potential customers. Displaying such a notice warns customers that the venue has a search policy, so preventing most from trying to bring unauthorised items in, and also shows that the search policy is a management decision, and not just something devised by the door staff themselves. Such signs should explain that:-

  • Customers are liable to be searched prior to entry
  • Entry is conditional on customers consenting to a search
  • Customers refusing to be searched will be refused entry
  • Searches are for illegal drugs, weapons and other unauthorised items
  • The police will automatically be called if customers are found with such items

How far each customer is searched is again up to the management of the premises, and the individual door supervisor’s discretion at the time. If a club has a particular problem with drugs abuse, then the searches will need to be fairly thorough as small amounts of controlled substances can be easily hidden. If another club has a reputation for fights and violent disorder, then the emphasis on the searching is more likely to be for offensive weapons such as knives, knuckle-dusters and coshes. Full strip-searches should not be carried out by door staff, however.

Permission must always be obtained from the customer prior to a search, because as we have already mentioned you have no legal or statutory powers granting you authority to search any person without their express consent. So before you consider searching a customer at the point of entry you must first of all explain that it is the policy of the venue that customers allow themselves to be searched by the doorstaff. Tell them what you will be searching for, ie drugs, weapons and any other items not suitable to be taken into the premises, and ask them if they mind you searching them. Most customers will quite happily give their consent, as they realise that attempts are being made to make the premises as safe as is reasonably possible for them to enjoy themselves in. If necessary take time to fully explain the reasons for the search to them in a clear and concise way. If the customer indicates that he does not wish to be searched before he enters the pub or club, you should then indicate to the notice that explains that search procedures are a condition of entry, and inform him that if he does not consent to being searched then he will be refused admission to the premises. If he still refuses to be searched then he should be politely but firmly turned away.

Door supervisors have no other powers to deal with potential customers who refuse to be searched. If, however, you have strong reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is in possession of either illegal drugs or offensive weapons, then you should note the person’s description, watch to see which direction he makes off in, and report the matter to the police. They may then decide to search the area for the person and exercise their own powers of search in the street to find out whether his is in possession of such items.

It is most important that door supervisors actually obtain permission from the person they wish to search beforehand. Searching someone without the necessary consent could result in :-

  • criminal proceedings for assault being taken against the door supervisor
  • civil action ( for compensation ) being taken out against the supervisor and/or the venue
  • a criminal case against a customer found to be in possession of drugs or weapons failing, if the search itself was found to be illegal because consent was not obtained.

SEARCHES INSIDE THE VENUE
As already stated, door supervisors have no automatic legal rights to search any members of the public, and should only normally do so at the point of entry, as a condition of entry. Some premises/managers/companies allow or even ask their door supervisors to search customers once they are inside the premises, normally if they suspect that they have either drugs or weapons in their possession. It is thought by some, however, that door supervisors have no legal authority to do this, even with the consent of the customer. If a door supervisor searches and finds drugs on a customer once they are already inside the premises, and the matter goes to court, there is the possibility that the case may be lost. This is because it might be claimed that the door supervisor had no power to search that person in the first place, particularly if the customer says that he only ‘consented’ to a search because he was frightened about what might happen if he didn’t. Any items found during an illegal search cannot be tendered as evidence, as they have not been obtained legally. It is recommended, therefore, that door supervisors do not routinely search customers once there are actually inside the venue.

If supervisors suspect or are told by someone else that a customer has either drugs or weapons in their possession whilst they are inside the venue, then the door supervisor should attempt to discreetly observe the customer to gain more evidence. Some venues use plain-clothed security operatives for this very purpose. The management should also be informed, who may decide to call the police. They may attend and decide to exercise their own statutory powers of search on the customer.

If, on the other hand, you have actually personally seen a customer in possession of weapons or what you believe to be controlled drugs inside the premises, then you have the power to arrest them and hand them over to the police for those offences (See ARREST chapter). In these circumstances you will obviously have to keep a strict eye on the person until the police arrive, to prevent them from disposing or using the drugs or the weapons. Alternatively, you could just eject them from the premises.

You cannot, however, trick someone into a search, nor can you bully them into consenting to a search.

For these reasons most venues, security companies and local authorities recommend that searches should only normally be made at the point of entry. You should always, however, be guided by the local policies and procedures on this matter, which should have been devised in consultation with the local police.

HOW TO CONDUCT SEARCHES
Searches should be conducted in a friendly, routine way so as to reduce any feelings of embarrassment that the customer might feel, and must not be seen as an act of discrimination or by way of a particular door supervisor being obstructive. All searches should be carried out in a polite and courteous manner. Some customers may feel intimidated or worried when being searched, whilst others may be used to it. You should talk to customers as you search them, firstly to help make them feel at ease, and secondly it will give you the opportunity to assess their general attitude and may show you whether they have had too much to drink, for example. You should try to carry out the search as quickly and as efficiently as possible, thanking the customer for his assistance afterwards.

Random searches of customers should be carried out at a frequency and in a manner that is likely to enhance the deterrent factor, and to increase the rates of detecting illegal and unauthorised items. The selection of customers to be searched may not be made on racial grounds, or on any other grounds that could be viewed as discriminatory.

It is very important to remember that for your own safety you should only search someone of the same sex as yourself. This is to prevent any malicious allegations being made to police that you have indecently assaulted a customer whilst effecting a search. There is nothing wrong with a male supervisor asking a female customer to empty the contents of her handbag and pockets onto a table so that her property can be checked, but he should not ‘pat her down’ or otherwise touch her to detect unauthorised items. Many large night clubs now employ door supervisors of both sexes for this very reason.

Special care should also be taken when searching customers for drugs. The possibility of infection from dirty needles is obvious. You can now buy needle-resistant gloves for searching purposes, which are ideal for these situations. When the emphasis on the searching is for weapons, door supervisors may wish to use the slash-proof gloves as protection against knife injuries, or can use hand-held metal detectors that can indicate the presence of both knives and firearms.

HOW TO SEARCH
How the door team goes about actually searching the customers depends on the type of customers who visit the premises, and on what items they are particularly trying to prevent being brought in. Some night clubs have a policy where every customer is searched prior to entry, whereas others only search odd customers at random, or every 10th customer, for example. Some only search customers who they believe for some reason may be in possession of unauthorised items. Whatever the system for selecting customers for searching is, the same search rules apply. Customers must be informed that the venue has a ‘search as a condition of entry’ policy, they should be told what items you are searching for, and their permission must be obtained prior to any search commencing.

If it is feasible to do so have an empty table at the search area so that you can ask customers to put the contents of their pockets and bags on it for inspection prior to the outer clothing being searched.

Before you physically touch another person you should ask them :-

  • whether they have anything in their possession that they should not have
  • whether they have anything on them which could injury either themselves or the supervisor
  • whether they have any knives, needles or other sharps in their possession

If a customer indicates that he has an illegal or unauthorised item in his possession then you must not let him put his hands in his pocket to get it for you. At this point it is advisable to obtain the assistance of another supervisor if you are on your own, to act as a witness to your search and for safety reasons. You should then ask the person to keep his hands where you can see them, and to tell you exactly where the item is. Lightly pat or feel the area he has indicated so that you can ascertain where the item is and in which position. Only when you are sure that you can retrieve the item safely should you attempt to do so. As soon as you have taken the item from the customer you should secure it away from him by either passing it to another door supervisor, or by safely placing it out of his reach so that he cannot get at it.

If, on the other hand, the customer says that he has no unauthorised items in his possession, then you can commence the search, still being aware of obvious dangers. Body searches need to be made in a thorough and systematic way in order that nothing is missed. You should devise your own method of searching, and should use the same system every time, so that you do not forget to search particular areas.

A good way to search is to start at the front at the top and to work your way downwards, then moving position to behind the subject to repeat the process.

REMEMBER TO CHECK :
That the subject’s hands are empty and clearly visible throughout the search

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