President and CEO of Nightclub Security Consultants Robert Smith combs over the rules of searching guests—should you choose that route.

The hospitality industry, if viewed as an umbrella, has many sub-categories contained under that umbrella. Each one of these sub-categories has there own set of tools and skills that should be provided or taught to keep the employees, their guests and the venues safe and ahead of any potential problems.
One such skill—the searching of guests before they enter—must carefully be examined before starting. Far too often, an owner or manager makes the decision to start searching guests at the door. Sure enough, come Friday night, the door host is checking guests’ IDs, then asking them to turn around so he can pat them down.
Let’s first discuss the term “search” and “pat down.” Now, I’m not an attorney but I know a little about some things. So, for our discussion and for nearly all of the readers, there is no difference between a pat down and a search. However, for those who want to know, the difference must be considered if you are law enforcement.
For a cop or deputy, a pat down can be conducted during a lawful detention for weapons only. To complete a search, the law enforcement officer needs permission, a warrant, some sort of immediate emergency or it’s done after a lawful arrest. So, don’t get lost in the meaning of the words.
Next, remember, you’re not a cop, you’re a private citizen and the Fourth Amendment of Constitution does not apply to you. For those who are not familiar, this is what the Fourth Amendment protects us against:
What this means is that you, a private citizen, can conduct a search of guests coming in or even on your property, if you want to. However, if conducted inappropriately or if excessive force is used, you and your employer are screwed and can face a civil suit.
Searching guests is no joke; it’s a serious matter and should be given serious consideration when deciding on whether to search or not. Here are some bullets to help in the decision-making process. Remember, as a consultant, I have clients who have taken these bullets and made an informed decision; some decided to search while others said no way.

Why do you want to search? Most operators consider starting to search their guests after a major incident they hear about. (Bataclan Theater in Paris, Pulse Nightclub in Orlando) They haven’t had a shooting or stabbing much less ever had a gun discovered in their club or bar.

Are you prepared to search 365 days a year… forever? Once you start searching, you cannot stop. This is an all-in proposition. Sure, you can roll the dice you won’t have a shooting on a Tuesday at 9 pm, but what questions will be asked if you did? Your attorney can try to defend your actions but the bottom line will be bad. Go ahead and ask an attorney about this. Most will agree; others will have a good attorney answer and say “it depends.”

Are you prepared to search ALL guests? This means males and females. This means the average Billy Bob guest and the well-known VIPs and, of course their crew. This means everyone. Just like our last bullet, sure you can try to search only the general admission men, but what questions are going to be asked when the personal bodyguard of a VIP pulls out a gun and shoots someone? (Remember Pac Man Jones in Vegas?)
This also means hiring female guards. Yes, you need to bring on two to three on the team to search the females. Some have told me; “We don’t have females, we use wands.” My response: “What do you do when the wand indicates an object?” You can’t be halfway pregnant and you can’t search just the men. There are documented cases when the males just hand off their weapon to their female companion because only males are searched.

Who is providing the training on how to safely and legally search guests? As mentioned before, you can search guests, but if your guard does it incorrectly or inappropriately, this single lawsuit can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, what if the untrained door host misses a weapon and it’s used in the club?
One of the most frequent issues I have with clients who decide to search is that the males at the door just don’t want to touch another man to really do the search correctly. Yes, some will have no problem and understand it’s an important job. But, most have an issue touching a male guest’s “junk” to see if he’s simply hiding his gun or knife in the front of his pants.

What are you going to do when you find something? This is an often forgotten area to consider. Training and practice must be provided on what to do. In 20 years of law enforcement and 19 years consulting, I can count three times when a gun was discovered at the door and the guest pulled it to use it. In every case, the guest was already intoxicated and acted irrationally. All other times, the guest knew they were “caught” and simply and quietly walked away to put their weapon in their car or simply leave the club.

Do you have a written policy on searching? Do you have the right equipment for searching? Do you have enough employees to implement a search policy? Are you ready to answer the guest questions and concerns?
Searching guests is no joke and should be given major consideration before it’s started. An open discussion must be had and I would recommend you get your security team and managers together and have an open discussion using the provided points. When you have unanswered questions, just drop me a line and I’ll help you out.

Finally, we didn’t talk about bag or purse searches this time around, but we will in another article soon.

For more information, visit or call (619) 880-7672.

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