The Spirit of the Law

security protocol

How can security personnel know what to do when doing the right thing contradicts the rules?  After all, life is often complicated and things are rarely black and white.

Here are two examples.  One of our school security clients was conducting a lock down drill.    Lock down procedures at that campus state that no one is allowed to leave the premises.  A mom who was still on campus when the drill began needed to leave to get to an important appointment.  What to do?  The officer at the access post refused to let her go.  It got ugly.

Had the officer better understood the objectives of the drill and had the officer felt that he had license to make decisions, the mom would have gotten to her appointment on time.  But instead, the letter of the law was applied, to no one’s benefit.

In another case, a soldier in a war zone in the Middle East was told to secure a road and let no one through.  An ambulance pulls up to the road block with an apparently pregnant woman inside.  The EMT states they have to get to a nearby hospital right away; she is about to give birth and there are complications.  But the soldier knows that terrorists have before used an ambulance ploy to infiltrate an IED hidden under a gurney or otherwise inside an ambulance.  The woman is screaming and the situation is agitated.  What to do?

The soldier allowed the ambulance to pass but only with close military escort to ensure it was in fact destined for and expected at, the hospital.  In this case, the spirit of the law was applied while still ensuring that the security objective was fulfilled.

The spirit of the law looks to the intent of the people who wrote the law.  The law in these cases are the procedures and security protocol.  The intent is the security objective which generally speaking, is about keeping people and assets safe and secure.  The objective of the lock down exercise example was to simulate a situation to train and drill personnel, students and others on how to act in an emergency.  Letting the mom leave would not have interfered with that goal.  Were it not a drill but the real deal, the officer should have made the mom stay put.

A security objective is not “make sure that every line of the protocol is followed to the T.”  Security objectives have to do with mitigation of threat, securing a perimeter, identifying suspicion, stopping an attacker, etc.  Perhaps there is a behavior or situation that was not anticipated and does not appear in the SOP …  but is being played out in front of the security officer.  Should he not act because it’s not on the checklist?  Of course not.

Security is enhanced when a (well-trained) security officer is given license to think and decide on their own, in the moment.  Perhaps there needs to be a protocol for how to make an exception to a rule?


  1. A.B. Slatkin on April 5, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    No set of rules will be perfect over all possible scenarios (even if the rules include a specific protocol for bending or breaking them). Fundamentally, the challenge is trusting that the judgment of the those executing the rules is sound. Provided that their judgment is trustworthy, then allowing them bend or break rules as appropriate should be ok. Of course, if their judgment is suspect, then they should not be given responsibility for making necessary decisions even WITHIN the set of rules. The difficulty here is that all this decision making carries liability, and we live in a CYA country. Giving responsibility (and methods) for security personnel to act on their own volition can only work if those officers are confident that their decisions will not be unfairly second-guessed after the fact. There is “safety” FOR THE OFFICERS to operate entirely within the framework of the rules (it mitigates the risk of being disciplined for making a wrong call) even when the safety and security OF THE SITE is not best served.

    Ideally, the security officers will be bright and rational, and with such people, you can get away with less detailed operating procedures and work instructions. And you can trust them to make good calls in the heat of battle. On the other hand, if the officers are not capable of making good decisions, then no amount of rules or procedures can fix that.

  2. RDS on April 5, 2017 at 9:36 pm

    Dear Staff:

    I liked your blog post on ‘letter of the law’. I have felt for decades that security officers especially need to be empowered to make their own decisions, as long as they have the intelligence and been trained.

    I’ve written a couple of blog posts on this as well in the past few months. It’s nice to know that what I’ve been ‘preaching’ for decades are finally coming to fruition. Thanks for your time and Have A Safe Day!

    Robert D. Sollars

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