Will poor security training undermine the 2012 London Olympics

Over the last few weeks there has been a row brewing between the Olympic security providers and photographers regarding the rights to photograph in and around the Olympic event spaces.

The argument has really come down to where people can take photographs and where such activities are restricted.

The answer to those questions is not a complicated one, if you are in a public place you can photograph anything you like; the privilege of living in a free society. If anyone needs clarification of this point the BSIA have released further information; Click Here.

So why are we seeing such overzealous responses from security guards at different Olympic venues, trying to prevent photographs being taken?

The answer lies in the training and supervision and often the egos of individuals working in those positions; which again comes down to poor training and selection.

10,000 private security guards have been employed to work at the Olympics by G4S, the company which won the contract for security at the games. G4S have a responsibility to their shareholders to deliver value, but at what cost?

The private security industry is still plagued by poor training, poor governance and poor enforcement. Many people see the SIA licence as evidence of training; it is in some cases only evidence that someone has paid for training.

There are many very experienced, very professional people working in the private security industry and there can be no doubt that without them this country would be in chaos; the police might not always be the first to admit it, but without private security the country would be in a very sorry state. However speak to any experienced private security industry professional and they will tell you that their competence comes from training, continued professional development and experience; they will also tell you they are there to support the police, not to replace them.

You can’t employ someone one day and throw them into an event like the Olympics the next and expect them to perform to a particularly high standard; this is further undermined by giving people the false confidence, that after 4 days of sitting in a training room they are now fully ‘trained’.

Standards of training vary significantly, unfortunately the pressures on margins has forced many good trainers out of sector as they are unwilling, on principle, to pretend that putting 50+ people in a room is going to deliver effective training in conflict management, physical intervention or other security related subjects.

How good is the training and how well regulated is it, well it’s not difficult to find examples where individuals who speak very poor English and have trouble reading or writing in English, still have somehow managed to obtain an SIA licence; interesting when the exams for SIA qualifications must be taken in English…

Private security guards do not replace the police and good ones will not try to. They shouldn’t need to quote law when dealing with conflict of any kind. One of my greatest bugbears is when security personnel try and justify their actions with law, which they either don’t fully understand or worse which doesn’t exist; it demonstrates a lack of experience, competence supervision and poor training.

Let’s look at the example recently from the O2.

When the journalist was confronted, he asked under what law the security guards thought they could prevent him filming and their reply was ‘under terrorist’. What does that even mean and why are people always so keen to justify themselves with such silly retorts.

All such responses do is to fuel those reporters who are looking for a story and willing to push the boundaries as both the recent cases have done.

What happens next is that the company employing the security guards issues an apology and promises to investigate the situation.

Why does the security guard not just tell the truth?

A response to the question ‘why are you stopping us from taking photographs’, should be ‘because my employer told me to’. There the argument ends.

What can the photographer respond to that?

Nothing, the only option they have is to seek an explanation from the company itself, because the fault (if there is one) obviously lies higher up.

Alternatively someone can call the police to intervene, who in the UK are trained exceptionally well, can quote the law and have the power to enforce for / against either side of the argument conclusively.

The other interesting training point from this example is the training given regarding photography has come from the employer rather than any SIA training, whose syllabus doesn’t really cover it.

Why would you want to stop people photographing venues?

Two reasons spring to mind; terrorism and protection of the commercial rights.

In these cases where photographers were stopped from filming the Olympic sites, I would guess it has more to do with the commercial rights. Realistically terrorists don’t employ Guardian photographers to take their reconnaissance photographs and as a rule they tend to be very subtle about reconnaissance trying not to draw attention to themselves; rather than standing in the middle of a traffic island, as seems to have been case in the O2 incident.

The assertion that the security guards were protecting against terrorism by confronting individuals with professional camera equipment, but would not harass ‘tourists and visitors’ using smart phones and amateur cameras, makes little sense if the prevention of terrorism is the reason.

So we can therefore assume that much of the reasoning behind the training given to security staff, telling them to prevent photographs being taken, is the paranoia surrounding the protection of commercial interests associated with the Olympic events.

The value of the Olympic Games commercially is unfathomable, that is fiercely protected by the organisers, to the point where new legislation had to be quietly introduced in the UK to prevent any non-affiliated marketing being carried out in conjunction with the games.

Private Security Army

This is a two-sided argument, a private security army is essential for a successful Olympic Games, but private security is also essential for G4S commercially and why would they seek to employ more experienced private security professionals when they can train up 10,000 cheaper new starters.

These new staff will in turn give them a ready source of cheap labour to expand their operations after the games. The equation is a simple one; adding 10,000 licensed security guards to the UK workforce will reduce the wages paid to professional private security personnel across the UK after the games; standards are likely to fall further as a result.

The commercial interests of sponsors must be protected, most people accept that without their investment the most watched event on the planet would struggle to maintain its status; but not at the cost of the freedoms we enjoy in the UK. Inside the event spaces the sponsors reign as for any event, outside in public space the public reign.

Private security is essential for a successful Olympic Games, but untrained security personnel can taint in the experience visitors have. The well trained ones will play a pivotal role in public safety in the form of crowd / access control, public order in preventing anti-social behaviour and protecting the commercial rights of the organisers and sponsors. Private security staff need to realise they have an important role and not remember they are not a private police force.

Terrorism is a very real threat to the games and London. Terrorism will be prevented by the tireless very professional job the police, intelligence services and the armed forces have done and will do; they should get all our support. Private security plays a role as the eyes and ears of the police and the good ones will report suspicious activity to them for action to be taken.

Working together and training at each level to understand each individual’s role, will see London deliver a very successful Olympics… but time is running out.

Related Reports
Olympic park guards forcibly stop journalists from taking photos – The Guardian
Olympic guards wrong to stop photographer, admits O2 – Amateur Photographer
O2 Olympic venue in row over security against legal photography – The Guardian
Olympics’ security guards “trained to deter people from taking photographs” – British Journal of Photography

Date – 8th May 2012
Submitted by – Peter Mayhew is the Managing Director of Beyond the Blue Training & Consultancy.

More News Stories from Beyond the Blue>>

For more information on any of our services, please call us on 01784 434 392 / 0845 602 55 95 (low call rate from UK landlines) or Contact Us.