One large part of an employee’s job is to try to keep fellow employees and guests safe. Besides deciding to search guests before they enter your venue, operators must also consider whether to search any sort of bags, purses and even entertainer bags. It is very important to remember the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution and what it actually means. As we briefly touched on in the last article, the Fourth Amendment protects nearly everyone in our country from unlawful search or seizure “from a government agent.”
The last part of that sentence is critical for you to understand and accept. A door host or other employee is not a government agent and therefore not bound by the Fourth Amendment. I’m sure some will not believe me; however, a couple of internet searches will reveal the Supreme Court decisions saying the exact same thing.
So, let’s talk about bags and purses entering any door of your venue. A bag or purse can carry a huge variety of contraband, but the largest worry should be weapons.
If you accept my point that first, you can search them, you must accept my statement that if you are not truly searching them, don’t do it at all. I’m saying that a “bag check” is not a “bag search.” This is very important.
I had a client that thought they were doing bag searches at the door and when I explained they were merely conducting bag checks the “alpha” owner said, “We’re not TSA and having everybody’s stuff on a table isn’t what we’re about.” My response was not pleasing to him: “You can’t be a little pregnant; do it right or don’t do it.”
This owner decided to change policy. They stopped searching all female purses and only focused on “oversized” purses. They also stopped allowing any other bags to enter except for the entertainers. And, all entertainers’ bags were fully searched in the rear of the house. It took a few weeks for the guests and entertainers to really learn the new process and now they have a much smoother process and everyone still feels safe.
As for entertainers, I’ve always recommended searching their bags when they come to work. It doesn’t matter whether they’re contracted or employees, we know they may bring “contraband” into the dressing rooms. Be it booze, drugs, weapons—it’s our job to do what is reasonable to prevent these items from being in our venue.
The main point of the prior story is that owners and the team must know that if they are going to search bags at the door, then everyone must be ready to fully engage the process. Here are four points to help jump in with both feet:
• Train your entire team so they are totally aware they have every legal right to search bags, purses or people coming into your venues.
• Train your entire team what to do when something we don’t want in our venue is found. The common term is simply “contraband.” The door host doesn’t need to freak out, they should already know what to do if they find a small bottle of unmarked pills or even a handgun.
• Provide your team with the essential equipment to conduct proper bag searches at the front door. Give them items like a simple draped high-top table to place bags on, a good flashlight, rubber gloves and maybe a small trash can for the guest to drop any “contraband” before they enter.
• Set your bag search location up in full and total view of a good camera or multiple cameras. Door hosts are not going to steal but they may be accused of theft, so why not have the camera coverage to help you before the issue arises.
A bag search “how to”
It’s really very simple. After I show one bag search to a door host, they typically have it down. It’s not rocket science.
One method I teach door hosts is to simply consider this a search for their car keys. We’ve all looked in someone’s purse for gum, keys or something else. There is no difference for our front door. To conduct a proper bag search of a guest, staff should remember the following points:
• Hospitality starts at the door. Language is important here. Be polite; explain to the guest you need to check their bag before entering. Guests already know why you are searching; they also know what is happening around the world. If they balk or object, don’t take it personally, simply thank them and tell them they can’t enter without it. Anything past that, get a manager involved.
• Politely take the bag from the guest, hold the bottom of the bag as you move it to the table and “secretly” hold, massage and feel the bottom of the bag for anything heavy or odd that might be hidden on the bottom of the bag. Remember what we are most concerned about—guns. There are other things to worry about, but the most serious is a firearm.
• Once the bag is in your hand, as you’re holding it, simply ask the guest if there is anything they should know about in the bag—guns, knives, drugs or …? This question may seem odd, but most guests will be honest and just tell you they have “X” in the bag. Remember, we’re going to search it anyway but ask first.
• Once the bag is on the table, you’ve asked your question(s), now open it and look inside. Put your hand and, if necessary, your arm inside the bag to move things to the right or left or from side to side. If necessary, pull out any makeup bags, smaller containers or even the occasional pleasure devise out to be sure you are really searching the bag.
• Open all zippers or pockets. Remember, we’re primarily looking for weapons but also drugs or small liquor bottles.
• After you are comfortable with the search and there is no contraband, politely place items back in the bag and give it to the guest. Remember to thank them.
Just so you’re aware, this is a true search. As I mentioned earlier, a “bag check” is not what should be done. A bag check typically looks like this: Guest holds their purse, opens it up, door host only looks inside, is worried about putting their hand inside and that’s it. This is a terrible method to use if you really are trying to prevent problems. I have several stories of bag checks being done at the door and later that night, after a shooting in the club, cameras revealed the gun was hidden in the bag.
Good luck everyone, and as always, if you have questions about this or disagree with my points, please let me know. I’m very open about my ideas and beliefs. Be safe.
Robert C. Smith is the President and CEO of Nightclub Security Consultants, Inc. Now retired after over 20 years as a San Diego Police Officer, his company has trained over 5,000 hospitality industry employees and worked with over 1,000 bars, clubs, restaurants and other alcohol service venues nationwide. For more information on Nightclub Security Consultants, visit Nightclubsecurity.com or go to www.facebook.com/bouncertraining or follow on Twitter @bouncercoach.