Sometimes all it takes is one bad employee to sully an organization’s reputation. If you ask one Ottawa couple that attended a recent Kevin Hart show at the Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, Ont., that’s exactly what happened after they were allegedly forcibly removed from the venue.

According to media reports, the incident occurred when Nathan Bhateley and his girlfriend, Samantha Molloy, were asked to leave the show after being accused by security guards of using their cellphones. According to the guards, this was a breach of venue policy.

The couple argued they were only using the flashlights on their phones to locate seats in the darkened arena. They said the guards disagreed, saying that any use of mobile devices constitutes a violation of policy and that they’d have to leave. As they were being escorted out, Bhateley, informing one guard that he felt the incident was a misunderstanding, was allegedly shoved against a wall and later placed in a headlock. Molloy claimed that she had her phone swatted away by another guard after attempting to record the incident.

Bhateley says he was put into a headlock once again after asking to speak to a supervisor.

The incident raises some important points for anyone employing a security firm to patrol their commercial property, be it a concert venue, retail outlet, office or industrial facility.

First, there is the question of appropriate use of force. According to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services:

“Where a security guard is required or authorized by law to do anything in the administration or enforcement of the law, section 25 of the Criminal Code (Canada) is applicable. In these circumstances, section 25 allows a security guard (like all members of the public) to use as much force as is necessary as long as they act on reasonable grounds. However, section 26 states that individuals who use force are also criminally responsible for any excess of force in these circumstances. 

It is important that security guards have an understanding of use of force theory in order to avoid using excessive force. Security guards should also be familiar with the concepts of excited delirium syndrome and positional asphyxia; these may occur when a person is being physically restrained, and may lead to sudden or unexpected death.”

Yes, guards are legally permitted to use force, but only to a point. At Wincon Security, our training is clear: force should only be used in absolute extreme circumstances. Security personnel should use the training and tools at their disposal to de-escalate a situation whenever possible. Even if an individual is becoming aggressive, there are often non-aggressive ways to contain them until police can intervene to handle the situation.

Being cavalier with applied force is never an option for our team members. Unfortunately, not all security firms follow such rigorous incident-management protocols.

That’s why recruitment and training are so important. If security firms don’t take the time to hire level-headed individuals and weed out prospective candidates who might opt to use aggressive tactics where other, more effective means might be readily available, they invite incidents such as this one. If their training is inadequate, security staffers may allow their own emotions and frustrations to boil over in the moment, prompting them to use heavy-handed tactics instead of trying to reason with the individual.

And that brings us to the final, most important point: choose your security firm wisely. There are many organizations that cut corners when it comes to training and recruitment, have astronomically high employee turnover rates and lack the necessary protocols and accountability procedures to keep their employees in check. When deciding to work with a firm, ask for client references, take the time to review their workplace policies and ask specific questions that relate to your business. If you own a retail store, for example, ask scenario-based questions to assess the suitability of their preferred approach. For example: “If one of your guards catches a shoplifter stealing merchandise from our store, how would they react and handle the situation?”

As a result of this incident, Kevin Hart—who we can guarantee had no idea that it occurred in the first place—has his name and reputation tied to a very unfortunate incident, as does the venue.

“I don’t want to go back there … knowing that that’s the guards that they hire, and they’re allowed to treat you like that,” Molloy told CBC News.

It takes years to overcome bad press such as this, but only a couple of days to properly vet your next security firm. The latter is well worth the time and effort.

Winston Stewart, President and CEO

Wincon Security