Security for Events from a Police and Private Security Perspective
© Written by Alan CROWTHER CCTP BA(Hons) Econ, Chief Manager Compliance & Internal Control MSS
The Meaning of Security from a Police Perspective
The police in Hong Kong when employed must undertake training at the Police Academy which amounts to nine months for an Inspector and six months for a Police Constable. This amount of training is required and can not be shortened due to the need to possess knowledge about the laws of Hong Kong that they will also enforce as well as the procedures police will take to maintain law and order as well as investigate matters that come to their attention be it external or internal such as discipline. The fact that the police also carry firearms means that firearm training of the highest order must be undertaken and firearm tests and exams passed otherwise failure will result in officers being released and not graduating. The same applies to the learning of the laws of Hong Kong as professional exams need to be undertaken and passed otherwise officers will not graduate.
A great deal of training also takes place in respect of leadership and command and the exercising of those attributes because even if the police force is now a service it also has to deal with riots and protests and some techniques that are learnt can be considered para-military and hence training is a must. Training at the Police Academy in this respect is elementary as skills in this area will be honed when undergoing Police Tactical Training at the Police Tactical Unit Headquarters usually in their first three years of service which lasts for 16 weeks and is extremely intense.
It is also of note that other training is also undertaken in respect of continuation training as well as when streamed for criminal investigation at the Detective Training Centre. All Police Inspectors also have to pass Command Training Courses at a Junior and Intermediate level not to mention having to pass two more sets of professional exams called Standard Two and Standard Threes especially if promotion is to be secured.
The observation being made is that as a police officer deployed for security purposes at large events is that enough manpower will be turned out that can be deployed in their own unit’s strength or in multiple units’ strength and it is known that all officers deployed will be able to trust other units especially those that have received the same training and are therefore fully familiar with all actions that might be taken. Normally in large scale operations it will either be a Force level operation ensuring the security for a procession and the Region in which the procession takes place will complement the Force operation with its own manpower deployed on the periphery in its own Region. Many of these operations are planned well in advance and have regular meetings as well as briefings and what if exercises beforehand. It therefore goes that all involved are very familiar with the whole plan and prior to 2019 the Region of Hong Kong Island would have already made plans depending on the organization, route, final destination and purpose as well as gathering and dispersal point.
It can be said that security for an event provided by the police can have dedicated units assigned with appropriate back up coverage be it for a day or as in 2014 for more than three months albeit the Force will go into a prolonged alert structure which will have some effects especially in terms of available manpower. The numbers on the ground can also be enlarged by deployment of Internal Security companies from other police Regions or even from the deployment of Emergency Unit platoons or companies. This can be done with little if any lead time as units can be asked to remain on duty, quickly reformed and deployed while Police Districts can also adapt to the scaled-up deployments be it in a horizontal or vertical manner. The obtaining of additional manpower after discussion and justification in the police public sector cannot be under estimated unlike the private sector. The costs of scaling up will be met by increased budgets the funding of which will never be turned down as it is on a need basis and this keeps officer’s accrued overtime hours to a minimum ensuring that when there is a return to normality policing levels will not drop substantially due to a need to reduce overtime balances.
Security From a Private Sector Perspective.
When a company engages in private security it must engage people who are properly trained in accordance with Hong Kong Laws meaning that those who are employed to carry out private security must have taken and passed a two-day Security Personnel Permit (SPP) course so that they are employed with the most basic security qualification. Additional training may be undertaken by the hiring company depending on what grade of guard the hiring company has undertaken to provide in respect of contracts won by tender.
Obviously AA grade buildings and developments will no doubt require premium guards which means that guards will have to undergo additional training in terms of service quality as well as first aid and vehicular management. All the additional training will incur additional cost to the company providing the security unless previous staff still deemed suitable by the contracting business are retained or guards with a long history of guarding be it in the private sector or disciplined services are engaged. The holding of drills and familiarization with Standard Operating and Emergency Procedures will also have to be factored into costs to be incurred.
The margins for private security companies in the main are at best slim on most contracts especially if aggressive penalties for early leavers, late arrivals, or shortages and wrong grade of guard being provided are taken into account. This means that security companies will have to have a greater pool of manpower than is stated in the contract that they can call upon to fill gaps due to illness or weekly and annual leaves and staff turn-over.Indeed most contracts have clauses that given a certain number of days’ notice manpower can be increased for special functions or decreased due to unforeseen circumstances as in 2019 when many businesses closed (HKJC Off Course Betting Branches) or others such as the airport that required a vast number of additional guards almost instantly which due to competition from other businesses also requiring additional manpower meant premium rates had to be charged.
The amount of security required on a daily basis at some venues can be quite small however for some entertainment venues that hold concerts or exhibitions can be considered huge. This means that the security company contracted to provide security had to have the capacity to increase it normal daily provision of labour by between 5 and 25 times its normal provision and as such had to have sufficient part time guards that were familiar with similar events for the venue that could turn out on a part time basis. Normally the security company will ensure that it can call upon another 10% of the guards specified for the event should the need arise as in the case of when the venue had an air-conditioning problem which required 30 additional guards for the whole week-long trade show just to ensure what little aircon there was would remain in the building so doors had to be closed or only allowed to stay open for as long as they were needed.
Providers of security on occasion have to work with other security contractors when concerts are held especially if the venue contractor is providing front of house security and the artist has engaged another security company for back of house security. The area handled by each security provider has to be properly delineated so everyone knows who is responsible especially important should problems occur. The differences in guards provided by different companies and their familiarity with the venue can on occasion be clearly seen and in these cases it is up to the venue security to ensure gaps in experience are bridged and properly supervised.
In Hong Kong in respect of two concerts held in the last four years namely the Ariana Grande and Creamfields EDM concerts that needed to have police involvement, the need came from the venue in respect of Ariana Grande the Dangerous Women concert because of the Manchester bombing and the need to have extremely high levels of security not to mention screening of concert patrons. In the former case the police provided a presence outside the venue while the venue management had to be responsible for security inside the venue. The police in undertaking their risk assessment came up with their manpower and unit plan on who would be deployed or held in reserve but they also ensured that if their presence was required in the venue they had ensured that all their units had visited and recced the venue as well as also undertaking an anti-terrorism exercise also at the venue.
In respect of the latter the police stated that they wanted to have a presence inside the venue which was mainly plain clothed due to the risk of consumption of drugs and enforcement of licensing hours for the event liquor licence because of the proximity of a nearby key transport facility. Outside the venue there would be a uniformed police presence mainly as a deterrent measure as it would be highly visible. This was all agreed and the venue security operational plan was circulated to the police so all involved spoke a common language that was understood as well as procedures to deal with concert patrons that had failed the drugs swabbing twice which if they still wanted to enter the venue the police agreed to interview and or search depending on the circumstances. Venue security even though they were responsible for the front of house security also had to realise the limitations of power that their guards had as well as understand the roll of the police for ensuring everything remained lawful according to their police powers.
It is noted that some venues such as Cruise Terminals are mandated to undertake an anti-terrorism exercise once every 18 months in accordance with the terms and conditions of the International Ship and Port Facility Security regulations. This may require additional security over the normal to be deployed and therefore it is always opportune to involve the nearest police Region who also have guidelines on the holding of major exercises at major infrastructure locations in their Region once a year and getting involved would tick all the boxes and also increase interoperability. Furthermore cruise terminals are ideal training grounds for Police Airport Security Units to hone their skills as they are very similar to airport terminal venues in their layout.
In terms of scalability in private security a 3 week lead time is required to increase security substantially and if security is needed like yesterday the costs will drastically increase. It is therefore safe to say that because of cost and the bottom line agreed security can not be quickly increased unless it is in the region of 10% only as most security companies will have that percentage available as a safe guard.
It is also safe to say that security can not undertake last minute tasks to entertain say concert promoters who on a whim want to undertake a gimmick to make the concert event or artist more exciting. This is especially so if it is considered risky or dangerous without prior arrangement or concert furniture such as crowd bearing barriers being put in strategic locations prior to the concert venue being populated such as in the practice of insisting on a “One Lap Walkabout” that some irresponsible organizers demand using all the excuses under the sun to justify their intentions. It must be remembered that if something drastic went wrong and there were audience injuries or worse deaths only the name of the venue and provider of security would be remembered as opposed to the real culprit namely the concert promoter.
As can be seen it is easier for the police to scale up or down either horizontally or vertically and their manpower having undergone the same rigorous training and having 30000 officers in the police force is very flexible, adaptable and therefore deployable and uniformly trained and updated periodically. The scaling up can be either at short notice for short periods or for long period regardless of cost as necessity is the main driving force.
In comparison to private sector security the pool of manpower is much smaller and necessity will always have to be balanced against cost and the bottom line both by the provider of security personnel and those that require security. Uniformity and familiarity with a venue will also have to be monitored and it goes without saying that the age of private security officers is much older than the average age of police personnel which also might be a factor affecting performance not to mention kit used and powers that can be exercised.
It is therefore opined that in the private sector there is less flexibility when it comes to the deployment of duties and experience over and above that provided by undertaking a SPP course is considered a cost for security companies but a necessity when bidding for top notch security contracts at AA Grade locations. These extra costs involved could reduce the already slim profit margins not to mention the cost ramifications if staff retention becomes a factor and new guards have to be given additional training.
All rights reserved. August 2021. English version only.