Emergency Preparedness, Safety, Security

Handling Disruptive People in Public Facilities

Certain facilities have an “invitee relationship” with the public, and they actively encourage people to use their hotels, bars, restaurants, movie theaters, or nightclubs. Beyond just the hospitality industries, other public facilities include hospitals and medical clinics, stores and malls, churches, libraries, and parks. Facility managers and their security teams need to know how to use good customer service skills and effective security procedures when dealing with difficult people in these environments.

Angry customer arguing with cashier

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Dealing with customers who have come become uncooperative while using a “public facility” (even though it’s often a privately held company) calls for a team approach. This team should typically include a security professional, officer, or bouncer; a facility manager; and an employee (who usually instigates the call for help).

The disruptive customer may be drunk, under the influence of drugs, a little unstable, or a lot mentally ill, angry, or entitled. Typical entitled customers say things like, “I’ve been coming here for years! You can’t tell me what to do!” or “I paid my way in here. Leave me alone!” Their relative levels of sobriety and indignation can make them challenging to deal with. Often, what we decide to do is what they have already predicted: “Why don’t you just go ahead and call the cops on me!” (which is what we’ve just done) or “I bet you’re going to try to make me leave!” (this is usually spoken right at the point where we’ve done just that).

Here are some approaches to dealing with difficult, challenging, bad-tempered, obnoxious, and even dangerous customers:

  • Discuss who is the primary intervener. Rank and job titles are not important as much as safely getting compliance from the outraged, entitled, or inebriated customer at a level that is as low-key as possible. It’s what’s right in these potentially stressful situations, not who’s right.
  • Look for opportunities to positively align with the person, which may be based on age, race, gender, or previous relatively successful experiences. If you’ve had good rapport with this person now or before, continue to try to talk. If not, put someone else in your place who can make a better personal connection. The goal is peace, not justice.
  • Try asking them to follow you to a quieter part of the facility to talk. This can get the person away from his or her friends and will not frighten people or disrupt the business in front of other customers or staff.
  • Try sitting down at the customer’s level to have the first “compliance conversation,” which is what bar bouncers often do to keep the initial emotional temperature low. It’s hard and unusual for someone to assault a person while they are both sitting down.
  • Set firm boundaries, and enforce consequences. Let the person vent while you validate his or her concerns (“I understand. You’re probably right. I’m not trying to make you mad.”) Give this person a face-saving way out to leave.
  • The first step is a verbal warning to comply with good behavior or leave: “You can’t keep doing that if you want to stay here,” or “Our insurance won’t let you do that.”
  • The second step is another verbal warning to leave now or the police will be called to escort the person out, then either escort him or her out of the business, or wait for the police to arrive to do it. The third step is to assist the police in escorting the person out.
  • Remind all security personnel not to ever restrain people by the neck or hit them with any objects anywhere in the head or neck. Combative people under the influence of drugs or alcohol, have preexisting health, heart, or breathing issues, or are obese can die from symptoms related to “excited delirium.”
  • Debrief all security officers and employees after any high-stress confrontation with a customer to fine-tune the best response for the next time.