Lessons from an armed security guard after living through the chaos of 2020 in Portland

The security industry has exploded over the past year. The demand for more security has risen at a rate faster than available security guards can fill the spots. A good friend of mine trains new guards professionally and in the last year his student enrollment has doubled. Despite the economic struggles that the past year has had, this industry has had a dramatic increase in demand.

The influx of new guards into positions means that on the whole, experience has decreased. This alone is a problem. However, with the difficulties that have occurred in society, the threats have greatly increased and the job has become substantially more dangerous.


In the area I work, downtown Portland Oregon, the past year has seen civil unrest like never before. Weeks of violence, fires, destruction and chaos have forced private citizens and business owners to seek additional resources to increase safety. 


Additionally, the already thin roster of personnel within the Portland Police Bureau coupled with the defund police movement have also reduced the city’s ability to maintain safety.  According to the Willamette Week, a local Portland area newspaper, “The rise in shootings continues a bleak trend. In 2020, Portland saw 890 shootings, more than double the 393 reported the year before.  Fifty-five people were killed by homicide last year in Portland, the highest number in a quarter century. At this pace, 2021 would easily eclipse that toll.”


Security guards are needed now more than ever. They are younger, have less experience, and are being subjected to greater risks than before. The threats of violence are real and significant. City resources have dropped dramatically. Needs are high, experience is low, threats are great and help isn’t likely coming.


This means that now more than ever the veterans of the industry, who have seen dark times and who have been through a fair share of muck, must mentor the young. We must share the lessons learned with new security guards. We have a duty to help. The new guards are being thrown to the wolves. The veterans must step in and lead the way. 


Over the past year, I have seen violence like never before. I have been bloodied by stab victims on more than one occasion. In the past month, 3 stabbings occurred in my regular patrol district and shootings are on the rise. It’s not uncommon for me to hear gunfire in the distance while on my patrol.


From this veteran to you, hear my heart, I want you to be successful. I want you to win. I want you to be safe and I want your community safe and I want to help you get there. Most importantly, you must go home when the shift is over. 


So where do we begin? This feels like an overwhelming task I know and it is, but begin. Start where you stand. The start where you stand phrase comes from mass casualty trauma assessment in EMT school. For instance, if a school bus flips over and suddenly 25 grade school students are injured, where do you begin? Which patient do you assess first? Start where you stand.


Starting where you stand means for you and me to begin looking at yourself. Look at your training, mindset, experience, health, equipment, sleep patterns and every area of your life and analyze. What areas need improvement? Once those areas are identified you can begin to take steps to shore up weaknesses and better ready yourself for the risks at hand. 


For example, uniform presence is a big part of command presence. If your uniform is terrible and you look like you just woke up wearing it, fix that. You will never be able to gain the unspoken respect if your uniform is awful. Polish your boots. A clean put together appearance will speak volumes about you. If you care about the details, like polishing your boots, others will see that as well. Believe it or not, you are less likely to get into a physical confrontation when you are wearing polished boots.


Know your existing equipment and know how to use it. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen security guards carry multiple pair of handcuffs and each pair is staged on differently. This is awful. Each pair should be preset and loaded onto your belt or vest in exactly the same way. This way you can know, without looking exactly how your handcuffs are staged and can remove them and apply them, without looking at them.  


Can you get at both sets of handcuffs with either hand? In a fight, you may need to use handcuffs with your off hand. Prepare and stage your critical equipment accordingly.


Before adding additional equipment, become skilled at the equipment you carry.  When was the last time you went through a pepper spray course? There is significant personal liability when pepper spray is used.  Do you know your local laws and are you familiar with the use of force continuum? If not, train up!



YouTube is a liar. When it comes to training, do not trust your future blindly to the random bad advice on social media. Ask veteran officers, your employer or trusted veterans where quality training is. The volume of bad information available online is staggering. Vet your instructors and make sure you are getting good quality instruction. Check the reviews and make sure that what is being taught is consistent with State and local laws. 


The veteran guards are needed now more than ever. They are needed desperately to mentor the new. We must not be selfish with the lessons we have learned. Over the past year I have learned volumes about conducting security operations in a violent protest. I have reevaluated my medical kit and changed a few things. I have significantly changed my mindset on defensive tactics and train regularly. Lessons like these are vital for the new guards to see and understand. There is too much on the line in terms of safety and liability. We must share what we have learned and leave a legacy of leadership through mentorship so the new can be strong.




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