Training Industry

How the United Airlines Incident Shows the Importance of Reasonable Force Training

  • How the United Airlines Incident Shows the Importance of Reasonable Force Training

In light of recent events, including the use of force by a Chicago Aviation security officer to remove a United Airlines passenger, it is a fortuitous time to review and update any reasonable force training your employees have undergone. Can you say, unequivocally, that every member of your company has received up-to-date and effective training?

Maintaining staff education should be an essential responsibility of any employer. Developing a sustainable business plan with a high staff retention rate and skilled workforce can bring bountiful returns. Delaying necessary training, meanwhile, can lead to negligence and a reduction in job satisfaction.

While we wouldn’t recommend omitting staff training for any business, if your employees haven’t received reasonable force training, there could be costly consequences. Offering continuing professional development is a great way to keep staff’s knowledge and professional practice levels high.

Defining Reasonable Force and Reasonable Force Training

In the United States, reasonable force is defined as the amount of force needed to protect yourself or your property and can be used when necessary to prevent someone from committing a forcible felony. For security guards, according to security consultant Chris McGoey, a common definition is “simply not to be excessive, under the circumstances.” Of course, no two situations are the same. But it is critical that those involved think rationally, assessing what is required of them before acting.

In the United Kingdom, the legal definition of reasonable force is determined independently by case. While court cases benefit from this fluid definition of reasonable force, it makes the gray area around the use of reasonable force even more complex. Anyone who might have to use reasonable force in their job faces a similar situation to those in the U.S.: They have to use their own judgment to define reasonable force, and decide whether it is necessary, within the context of the situation.

This is why reasonable force training is so important; it helps enhance employees’ understanding and judgment in moments of crisis. When training is performed properly, its ability to prevent harm makes it an essential tool in safeguarding others.

Quality training should aim to develop the cognitive responses necessary to “read” a situation and access the correct procedures required to diffuse it. Training should offer employees the opportunity to experience the use of reasonable force firsthand, using “in-the-field” exercises to enhance their understanding of what can happen outside the classroom. Training should also equip employees with the confidence to make accurate judgments regarding what constitutes reasonable force in any given scenario.

Emergency Situations: Use of Reasonable Force Training

Reasonable force training constitutes a number of steps that, when broken down, help learners understand how to react in an emergency. The first step, the presence of authority, is of key importance when attempting to diffuse a situation. De-escalation can be achieved through the citing of an authority figure, avoiding any further harm with little to no action required. It is important to remember that the aim here is always to prevent the use of reasonable force.

The next step is communication. Also a non-physical step, this stage involves the employee alerting everyone to their presence, stating their authority and explaining why the situation needs to be diffused. If the employee can engage in communication, they are likely to be able to take control of the scenario. Being in control is the most important part of de-escalating an emergency. If they cannot obtain control through non-physical methods, the third step is to use reasonable force.

Training should equip employees with an accurate gauge to measure reasonable force – both when to use it and how much force to use.

What Have We Learned about Reasonable Force Training?

In the example of the United Airlines passenger, it seems that the security officer felt he no longer had control of the situation and used reasonable force at an incorrect time. It could also be said that his use of reasonable force was excessive, as it left the passenger with severe injuries, so his reasonable force gauge failed on both counts. A different example would be the use of reasonable force in schools, where you have a higher risk of causing either physical or emotional injury. Correct safeguarding training should fine-tune your understanding of when reasonable force may be used to consider every outcome. Would security have acted in the same way if a child had refused to leave the plane?

Employers have a responsibility to help their staff maintain their confidence in the correct de-escalation procedure. While this is something that requires first-hand experience to truly master, we can put in place the correct framework to make sure staff feel supported in their role. Communication, engagement and understanding are the core tenants of a great training program. Does your staff training include these elements? If not, it might be time to reassess, and make sure your business plan champions the education of your workforce.

Keir McDonald is the CEO of e-learning provider EduCare, specializing in safeguarding training for all ages. Their use of reasonable force in schools training has been endorsed by the U.K. Police Force’s Secured by Design initiative and equips trainees with the knowledge and understanding required of them. In 2012, Keir was presented with an MBE for Services to Children in acknowledgment of his dedication to promoting the well-being of others.

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