Managing Violence

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Managing violence from a position of “authority” — even if that position is just a shift-manager position at a retail store — means you rarely have to resort to violence, James LaFond says:

In four years as a retail food manager I logged 2,908 incidents on my calendar, usually with just two letters to indicate an event: PH for panhandler, etc. The criminals I dealt with included from most to least frequent: drunks [usually attempting late access after closing time before a holiday or on the weekend]; panhandlers; shoplifters; gangs of youths; organized thieves; blitz shoplifters; drug-dealers; bootleg DVD vendors; perverts attempting to molest my female staff; terminated employees; strong-arm robbers working the parking lot and approaches [seven of my male clerks were attacked leaving work]; counterfeit bill rings; purse-snatchers; slip & fall con artists; and even two police officers who threatened me for not opening up the store for their personal use after hours.

As a clerk in this business for 25 years, I knew going in that there would be little or no backup from whoever I hired to do security work. Security personnel who work retail [including uniformed and off-duty police] are generally only concerned with one thing: socializing with your female staff. That is my experience working 34 retail outlets in Baltimore City and Baltimore County from 1981 thru 2011. I hate to label a profession but this is my experience and I will argue it with anyone. I’m sure this is not always the case, but this fact was one of the parameters that I was aware of going in. Local law-enforcement has always provided me with adequate backup in each of the three municipalities I worked. However, as effective as this backup might be, it is ten minutes away. I was essentially alone, and developed methods within that parameter.

Of the 2,908 incidents that I was personally involved in only three became physical: I wrestled with a knife-wielding shoplifter, recovering his coat, both of his knives, and all 72 bars of my soap he had stuffed in the lining of his coat; I was struck by a clerk I terminated [Thank you for winning the unemployment case for me sir.]; and I was grappled by, and head-butted a mentally disturbed panhandler. That is it; solid proof that people in positions of authority can manage violence and do not have to get physical often.

This type of situation, when you are stuck in a high volume location that attracts criminals like hyenas to a watering hole, is a type of Convergence Predation. Adopting a siege mentality will result in the erosion of your position, such as it is. You must be proactive in an appropriate sense. That means calming down the young lady and the old drunk who are fighting over their place in the express lane as the blizzard rolls up the East Coast and everyone else in the building is panicking over the End of Time and the sold out slot in the DVD vending machine!

It also means dropping your box cutter and leaping over that display you are building without taking the time to apologize to the customer who is discussing the football game with you so that you can make it to that sore-covered dope fiend on the parking lot that is trying to get to the old lady with the walker while your security guard sleeps at the video monitoring station.


The key to my success was how I used my position. Every person I dealt with—even the two cops, who were out of their municipality—knew that the cops who responded would believe the guy wearing the tie and the name badge. So they opted for the negotiated solution I offered. If you find yourself in such a position, managing violence, either as a security person, or as a manager, here is a quick checklist of does and don’ts:

  1. Never raise your voice.
  2. Address the criminal with respect [especially if he is a cop], as ‘sir’, or if a boy, as ‘man’
  3. Never embarrass the criminal. Try to approach him when he is alone, so that you can avoid putting him under pressure to appear strong in front of others. He wants to be weak. He wants you to be his daddy or his big brother. Befriending criminals that frequent your establishment is good policy. If you help this guy by delivering groceries to his crippled father while he’s in prison, and give him tips on how to speak to the cops—who are, after all, on the way—then you have taken the moral high ground and he will tend do what you ask him to do. He can also be cultivated as an intelligence asset.
  4. Do not use confrontational body language. Stand obliquely and do not hide your right hand or place your hands between him and you, and never, ever point. Yes, you are placing yourself in danger. You are there to protect others—even this scumbag—not protect yourself. You will not sue yourself. Every employee, customer and criminal will sue you and your employer if injured on premises. What I actually practiced was self-defense against lawyers, not criminals. The criminal is just going to break your glasses, not your bank account.
  5. Never touch anybody unless you really have to prevent a crime. I have even been able to retrieve steaks from shoplifters by only touching their clothes. If you have to touch try clothing first. Do everything you can to avoid hurting the criminal. Remember the deranged guy that I could not handle in the clinch? I head-butted him in the forehead, intentionally avoiding his nose, which could have exploded. But I was still not pleased with this resolution. The fact that it went physical at all meant that I had failed to manage the situation.
  6. To protect someone, like the old lady who is trying to run the gauntlet of screaming, drug-addicted, sore-covered panhandlers so that she can buy the jumbo eggs you put on sale for a dollar, all you have to do is get in the way. You do not have to be big or intimidating or even armed. You just have to escort people to protect them from common criminals. You are a meat shield in slacks and tie; Miss Ann’s very own Secret Service Agent, bad haircut and all.
  7. Never, ever show anger or use bad language. You must always be calm, cool and polite to derive the maximum benefit from your position, which is one of respect. You are the calm, cooling hand. Stay cool, even when you are burning up inside. This last, is the health hazard of the job. I, for one, could only tolerate four consecutive years as the benign stepfather to a hundred employees [who are prone to various antisocial behaviors] and the sheepdog to a flock of customers who are hunted by the wolves of society.


Let the cops beat them down. Remember, your ultimate duty is to provide your obese clients with the most efficient delivery systems for sodium, caffeine and simple carbohydrates at affordable prices, in a safe and congenial environment. That’s best accomplished with your shirt tucked in.

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