"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly": Responses by Security Staff to Aggressive Incidents in Public Drinking Settings

By Wells, Samantha; Graham, Kathryn et al. | Journal of Drug Issues, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly": Responses by Security Staff to Aggressive Incidents in Public Drinking Settings


Wells, Samantha, Graham, Kathryn, West, Paulette, Journal of Drug Issues


Naturally-occurring incidents of aggression among young people in public drinking establishments (from observations and interviews) were analyzed in order to better understand how security staff respond to barroom aggression. Behavior of security stafffell broadly into four main categories. "good, " "neutral, " "bad, " and "ugly. " "Good" security staff responses involved the prevention of aggression through identifying problem situations and reducing provocative behavior. "Neutral" responses were adequate to address immediate aggressive behavior but involved less preventative responses, such as allowing incidents to escalate before intervening and failing to prevent future incidents by permitting aggressive patrons to remain in the bar. "Bad " responses involved inconsistent or unfair behavior as well as using poor judgement when resolving disputes. "Ugly" responses included bullying or harassing patrons, provoking aggression, or being physically aggressive. Implications in terms of training and licensing are discussed.

America glorifies the power of violence and ignores its pity. Nonviolence is seen as cowardly. For a man to be gentle is for him to be weak. From the school yard fight to "Kojak" on television, we equate might with right. Our folklore is full of criminal heroes like Jesse James and Bonnie and Clyde. We respect force, and it is very human to want respect. Give me death, or life in prison, but don't ignore me, Son of Sam cries out. Few Americans are strong enough to adhere to nonviolence under pressure. "Winning" is everything and force is the way (Clark 1981:5).

Introduction

To a large extent the above quotation is particularly relevant to bars frequented by young males where behavior is controlled by security staff or "bouncers". A recent article in a Canadian national newspaper read as follows: "A Calgary judge has criticized Alberta's bar industry for not training bouncers after a pub customer's neck was broken when he was thrown out of a night club" (Globe and Mail 1997). Another newspaper article reported "Durham police arrested a 22year-old man yesterday in connection with a bar fight that may have led to the death of an Ajax man . . . The fight began inside the bar between two groups of friends, but then moved outside to the parking lot, police said" (Toronto Star 1996). These articles illustrate the degree of harm that can result from aggressive incidents that occur in and around public drinking establishments. Moreover, at least some aspects of harm may be affected by the behavior of bar staff. In the present paper, data on naturally-occurring aggression in bars frequented by young adults were used to better understand the role of bar security staff, bouncers, or doormen (as they are more commonly called in Canada). The findings have implications for both regulation and training of bar security staff.

Aggression in Licensed Premises

Evidence suggests that a large proportion of violent crime occurs in and around licensed premises (Ireland and Thommeny 1993; Pernanen 1991; Stockwell et al. 1993). Pernanen (1991) used interview and police data to study aggressive incidents in a community and found that a high rate of incidents involving alcohol occurred in public drinking establishments. Research specifically focussing on aggression in public drinking settings has shown that more frequent aggression is related to the following behaviors of bar staff: lack of responsible serving practices (e.g., serving underage patrons) (Homel et al. 1994), a permissive attitude toward patron behavior (Graham et al. 1980), and attempts by bar staff to exercise social control over patrons (Felson et al. 1986; Graves et al.1981; Homel et al.1994; Tomsen 1997). Graves et al. (1981) found that 45% of aggressive incidents observed in bars resulted from interventions by security staff as opposed to conflicts between patrons. A study on perceptions of bar violence found that respondents expected higher rates of aggression in bars where security staff were present (Leather and Lawrence 1995). …

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