Nightclub bouncers and doormen have been known to physically eject obnoxious patrons with such force that they caused serious injury and sometimes death. It always makes me wonder what led up to this level of violence and if excessive force was really necessary to handle the situation? As a general rule, a bouncer should never lay hands on a nightclub patron, except in a self-defense or for purposes of taking a person into custody for an arrest. If you think about it, what other business type has to use bouncers to bodily eject paying customers into the street?
The industry term bouncer presents an image of someone who will physically break up fights and forcibly eject undesirable patrons. Bouncers are often portrayed in movies as tough, thug-like scrappers who love to fight, like in the movie "Road House". Many nightclubs foster that image by hiring over-sized, ex-jocks, martial artists, or body-builders to handle drunken or out of control patrons. Are tough guys necessary to prevent violence in a nightclub?
Many of these bouncers have little experience and receive no real training. Some bouncers receive bad training about when and how they can apply physical force. In a crisis, inexperienced or untrained bouncers will be forced to rely on their own common sense and physical street instincts to control aggressive behavior from an intoxicated guest. This is a scary concept.
The duty of a bouncer is to monitor the crowd to see that everyone behaves and follows the house rules. The goal should be to see that everyone has a good time, but within limits. The best bouncers are mature, personable, friendly, and can talk to people without appearing threatening or intimidating. Not all bouncers should be male.
The best bouncers don’t bounce anyone…they manage people. The mere presence of a well-trained bouncer should remind the patron that their conduct is being monitored. To be effective a bouncer needs professional training on how to manage and control a packed house. Bouncers must watch over the club so it does not get too intense, the crowd too large, and keep a sharp eye out for intoxicated patrons. In a nightclub setting the combination of too much alcohol, testosterone, and machismo can sometimes lead to physical fights over seemingly insignificant issues.
The very nature of a bouncer’s job is to be confrontational and serious incidents can develop if mishandled. Before being turned loose into a disagreement between customers, bouncers need to have had training and preferably prior experience. When hiring a bouncer you must look for someone with the proper attitude and demeanor. You don’t want someone who is hot-headed or likes to fight. Thorough pre-employment screening is necessary to determine an applicant’s suitability for the job. For liability reasons, ex-felons should not be employed or anyone with a history of violence. The physical aspect is only one attribute essential for the job. Bouncers need to learn how to approach people as soon as negative conduct is observed in a non-threatening and professional manner. They need to learn about criminal and civil law applicable before using force against another and about their limited power to arrest. Bouncers must also be taught about the limits of their authority and the amount of force that can be lawfully and safely applied.
Use of Force
Because of my work as a nightclub security consultant, I am aware of incidents where bouncers have severely injured ejected customers. I have heard many stories about fights where bouncers have pummeled a customer while in the process of ejecting them from the premises. There have been cases where intoxicated customers have been killed after being taken into custody by bouncers by either restraint asphyxiation or by use of deadly force. This is not supposed to happen.
There are common misconceptions that bouncers have authority to pick someone up and physically remove them from the premises for violating a club rule. Some believe that bouncers can use pressure points, pain compliance holds, joint-manipulation, full-nelsons, chokeholds, wrist locks, and arm-bars to manhandle their patrons. This is generally not true.
Simply stated bouncers cannot legally use force against a patron being escorted out unless they are taking someone into custody for a crime or in self-defense. When force is used it must be reasonable depending on the circumstances. Ordinarily, that means no tackling, no punching, no kicking, no choking, no head butts, no piling on top, no hog-ties, and no pain compliance holds unless necessary for self-defense.
The authority of a bouncer, in most cases, is the same as any ordinary citizen. Bouncers have no special authority to physically eject a customer who merely becomes intoxicated or verbally obnoxious. As an employee of the nightclub, bouncers can only demand that the undesirable customer leave. If the customer refuses to leave your only legal recourse, in most cases, is to call the police.
Sometimes telling the unwanted patron that the police will be called has the same effect causing the customer to depart. The police can remove an unwanted patron by warning or arrest and issue a formal trespass warning not to return in the future. In a few states, bouncers may legally use minimal force to remove a trespasser after being duly warned. If the customer returns after receiving this formal warning they are subject to arrest.
A common liability issue involving bouncers has been the use of restraints and pain compliance control holds to remove or subdue a patron. Bouncers have used various forms of headlocks and choke holds on disruptive customers and caused serious head and neck injuries, asphyxiation, and even death. Handcuffs have been inappropriately applied and in doing so caused broken arms, dislocated shoulders, and have cut off circulation to hands causing permanent damage.
Nightclub patrons have died from positional restraint asphyxiation after being handcuffed from behind and then laid face down on the floor or from other bouncers piling on top. Some people can't breathe adequately when forced to lay face down and this condition is aggravated when bouncers pile on top especially if the victim is overweight. The face down patron cannot get a breath and will soon pass out.
In most death cases, the offending bouncers were discovered to have no formal training or experience using handcuffs or control holds and weren’t warned about the risk of positional restraint asphyxiation. When bouncers take physical custody of a patron they are responsible for doing so in a safe manner. This includes not forcing a patron to lay face down for extended periods. In most cases, reasonable care requires a nightclub security plan, proper hiring, training, supervision, and a policy of reasonable force.
Most death cases I have reviewed could have been avoided. If bouncers had training in first-aid, CPR, and proper restraint protocol they would have known or recognized the signs of breathing distress and relieve the pressure. It is unreasonable to assume that untrained bouncers will act properly in such a crisis. If a nightclub decides to authorize bouncers to use physical forces against patrons, then they better plan to train them in all aspects of doing the job correctly and safely. Watching the Worldwide Wrestling Federation or Mixed Martial Arts fights on TV is not considered proper training in use of force for nightclub bouncers or security personnel.
The nightclub and bar industry needs to address these important security liability issues more frequently in trade journal publications and at trade show seminars. Bouncers and door hosts need to be screened to weed out unsuitable applicants like violent felons. Real training should be provided to all those responsible for crowd control.
Nightclubs need to have a comprehensive security plan that is clearly defined and articulated. A policy to use physical force against patrons needs due care. Bouncers should have at least basic training in criminal and civil laws relating to the process of citizen's arrest, legal use of force, and self-defense.
Training in management of aggressive behavior, responsible service of alcohol, verbal judo, first-aid, and even CPR are important if bouncers are responsible for monitoring patron conduct and physically ejecting or arresting those who become obnoxious. Popular nightclubs should consider hiring off-duty police officers to work outside the front door to support the bouncers and act as a deterrent.
Past incidents are a good indicator of what a nightclub owner or manager needs to address in their security plan. Bouncers should be required to complete written reports and logs of activity when police are called or a customer was contacted and asked to leave.
Incident reports should be written anytime a customer is physically removed or injured in any way. These reports should
be reviewed daily by club management and archived for review by new bouncers. It is good policy to file reports for insurance purposes and in
case a lawsuit against the club. Video footage should be saved and archived are necessary and used as an instructive training tool to provide feedback and corrective supervision.
Nightclub & Bar Security Articles
- Nightclub Bar Security Expert: Avoid Liability & Negligence Claims
- Bouncers and Doormen
- Managing Obnoxious Patrons
- Death of a Nightclub
- Use of Force Continuum
Bouncers and Doormen Need Training