Thursday, November 13, 2014

“Predicting” Violent Behavior

We currently live in a society that is “an environment conducive to criminality:”  virtually all aspects of the most popular forms of entertainment involve violence and anti-social behavior (movies, television, video games, etc.); the news media thrives on violence and anti-social behavior (count the number of such stories versus “good” or “nice” news); society by and large has come to accept violence and anti-social behavior (we abide such behaviors in our neighborhoods and schools, our criminal justice system is virtually an ineffective revolving door, etc.); and we expend resources to protect ourselves usually only after a tragic event has occurred.  In other words, we may not like it, but we actually do – or can do – little about it.
We try to find reasons for violent behavior, and try to find ways to “predict” it in hopes of preventing it.  But is such a lofty goal even possible?   Or does the concept of preventing problems exist only in theory, not reality or practicality?  Consider:
“Behavior modification” is a great term and concept – provided that we have some idea as to whose behavior we are attempting to modify.  When the threat is external to an organization, how can we begin to know which of the next 732 persons to enter a facility is the one whose behavior needs modifying?  How can we begin to know if the “behavior modification” techniques that might work on 731 of those persons will work on the 1 who will actually be the next shooter?  If none of those 732 go on a shooting rampage today, does that mean that our “behavior modification” techniques were successful – or that none of them simply chose today as the day to shoot?   Etc. etc. etc.
We see examples of our efforts to find a new way to predict the next shooter every time another incident occurs (and by the way, nothing PREDICTS behavior – certain behaviors may be indicated, but none can be PREDICTED).  But the reality is that there is virtually nothing we can do because, even when some people see the signs, nothing is done because “if you see something, say something” is not socially acceptable, or is contrary to HIPAA (when the see-er is a mental or medical health professional), or is something that “…I was going to do later…” or whatever.  Families, bosses, co-workers, fellow classmates, etc. see things every day that are indicators of potential violent behavior, but do nothing because it is simply not politically correct or they’re busy or they did not realize what they were seeing or a million other excuses.
After every new incident comes another discussion of the same things, and the results are always the same – nothing gets changed, because nothing can really be changed.  Because even when problems are indicated before they occur, we still almost never do anything about them until after they have occurred.
Security professionals do not control organizational purse strings or the magic key to the CEO’s psyche, so we cannot implement the things which we know will pretty much stop the bad guys from doing most bad things most of the time.  And all of the studies and nice terminology and fancy graphs will never change that fact.  (And while agencies such as the U.S. Secret Service do a great job of behavioral analysis, remember that they have an entire division of professionals who do nothing but behavioral analysis and have the resources to investigate and check out their findings and leads and have to “only” protect a handful of key assets.)
So in the end,  all we as security professionals can really DO (as opposed to discussing theory and hypothesis) is do the best we can with resources our bosses choose to expend – that is, protect to the best of our abilities, with whatever resources we have been allotted, whatever our bosses have decided are our key assets. Period.


Friday, October 03, 2014

Academic vs. Practical Security Knowledge

Regardless of the extent of knowledge acquired via formal education or academic pursuit, it is almost always most beneficial to retain a security consultant or expert witness who has practical, hands-on experience in the subject matter at hand.

When a particular situation or case needs someone to interpret or present information that is based solely on scientific or theoretical fact, an expert with only an educational or academic background might be most suitable.  But in circumstances requiring expert OPINION – knowledge of specialized information and its application to a specific scenario – an expert with practical experience is most valuable.  In such cases, an expert who has been personally involved in the application of the relevant subject matter to a variety of diverse situations will be best able to provide the comprehensive insight that is needed to best assist the organization or attorney because he has had to not only know the subject matter, but has had to apply that knowledge to the situational nuances of the real world (a skill not generally found in experts who only possess academic or theoretical knowledge).

The primary value that a security consultant or expert witness brings to an organizational situation or legal case is his ability to apply general security principles to a specific situation because he has been there and done that.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Business Size And The Need For Security

Regardless of the size and sophistication of a business – from the sole proprietor of the neighborhood bar to the international conglomerate – the concept of providing a reasonably safe premises remains the same:   namely, a business must provide reasonable security commensurate with reasonably foreseeable threats and risks; and reasonable foreseeability is generally determined by a conscious analysis of the inherent nature of the business and the history of general criminal acts at and around the business.
While large organizations may meet their obligation to provide a safe environment via sophisticated security programs with designated personnel and formalized policies and procedures, even small businesses must do something proactively to meet their obligation – they must still take into account the kinds of problems that they will likely encounter given their particular situation (i.e., location, nature of business, clientele, prior problems, etc.).
Many small businesses erroneously presume that their small size will somehow either preclude problems or somehow absolve them of their legal obligation to provide a safe environment.  But statistics continue to show that small businesses – bars, apartment buildings, retail stores, etc. – are the venues where criminal activities are most likely to occur and consequently the kinds of places most likely to be sued for inadequate security.  And the settlements and awards stemming from these lawsuits should give business owners and operators cause for concern.
This information is important for 2 reasons:  First, it is prudent for businesses to understand that proactive attention to security matters is better and ultimately less expensive than after-the-fact litigation; and businesses that may find themselves involved in premises security liability cases need to remember that the criteria by which security is assessed will be the same regardless of the size of the business at which an incident has occurred.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Paradox of “Soft Targets”

There is both an irony and conundrum related to active shooter scenarios at soft targets: These types of places – and by the way, “soft targets” refers not only to places that customarily have minimal or at least non-aggressive security programs but also to places where the site’s users customarily have some sense of it being a safe place (so even personal security awareness is low) – almost “create” their desirability as targets because they consciously choose (or, “make business decisions”) to maintain a low security posture. And while these “reasons” are sometimes economic, that is not always the full story: there still seems to be some prevalent thought among proprietors of soft targets that the appearance of aggressive security somehow conveys an impression of impending danger. And isn’t that ironic – some people actually believe that more security equates to or implies greater danger. (I may be wrong, but I never thought that banks were inherently dangerous because they have armed guards!?!
No one deserves to be a target for violence. But I tend to feel a bit less sorry for places at which violence occurs when it is learned that those place consciously chose to do little if anything to minimize or mitigate their vulnerability.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Can Security Programs Really Do More With Less

Can we almost always find ways to do a little more with a little less? Certainly, as we have all experienced.  But here’s the downside: The reality is that we really don’t do a “little more” – we may do a “little more” in quantity, but actually do a “little less” in quality. And every “little less” that we do results in decreased service and increased liability (the old and true “you can pay me now or pay me later” adage).
When we talk about “working smarter” or better utilizing technology, we usually mean the replacement of people with machines and systems.  Automation is not a significant part of this problem (smaller budgets for security), contrary to what many “new school” practitioners and security product vendors would have you believe. Surely automation can make security somewhat easier, but it doesn’t necessarily make it better, because people will always be part of the equation and people will always be a significant and costly and on-going budget line item.  Virtually all of the types of services routinely provided by security personnel – preventive patrol, evicting trespassers, opening doors, providing escorts, conducting investigations, problem intervention, etc. – could not be accomplished without people. Can technology help? Sure. But successful conclusions to security incidents and problems rarely can occur without security personnel.
Other business operations don’t have the same problems as Security: When sales are down, marketing and advertising costs go up; when customer service complaints rise, personnel hiring costs go up; when floors get too dirty and equipment breaks down, housekeeping and maintenance costs rise. But even when security is at stake and problems and/or liability increase, the budget for security gets cut.
The panacea is not all the latest technologies and bells and whistles or even more operational security personnel. What we need is better security executives who can credibly sell security service based on accurate data collection and analysis, and who have the fortitude to strongly support and defend their positions even when such may not be politically- or career-correct (or wise).