Security and protective services - Employees serving court papers
Work-related violence case studies
Intellekt Ltd is a small company based in Oxford with five full-time employees. Their work includes:
- serving court injunction papers on potentially violent respondents and in volatile situations - normally at the person's home;
- entering hostile environments to obtain intelligence about counterfeit goods before subsequent action involving the police, trading standards or customs officers;
- repossession, for example repossessing a car if payments have not been made; and
- surveillance work.
All employees work alone for around one-third of their time. They usually work independently on their own cases but can ask for assistance or to work with other staff. All staff are considered to be mobile workers as they travel within the UK and overseas.
- Aggressive and violent clients.
- Drug addicts and drunks.
- Working in volatile situations such as serving bankruptcy papers or detecting infringements of trademark standards.
- Repossessing people's property can cause distress and lead to violence and abuse.
- There is a high risk of violence if detected during covert surveillance work.
Examples of incidents
- In China an employee posed as a buyer for a client to source a factory making counterfeit products. When he asked to see the factory he was taken blindfolded from a hotel at midnight to the mountains so that he could not see the route. This was extremely unnerving and threatening. Fortunately, he returned to his hotel unharmed.
- An employee was manhandled and evicted from a wholesale warehouse because of his race.
- During the repossession of a car from a public house car park an employee inadvertently locked the car with the duplicate key and was unable to unlock it again. The owner of the car and a friend appeared and started to run towards the car. The employee only just managed to get in and drive away safely.
Training and information
Informal observation training: new employees work alongside experienced staff to observe and learn how to do the job. They can see in practice the company's 'mild-mannered' way of interacting with people, an approach designed to avoid confrontation and violence.
Non-confrontational and non-antagonistic approach: In certain work, for example when serving court papers, it is important that employees are not confrontational - especially if a respondent has a history of violence. Intellekt considers this to be the most successful form of violence prevention.
Examples of a non-confrontational approach:
- Never throw court papers to the ground: this may antagonise respondents. It is less confrontational to 'place' the papers on the ground, pointing them out and explaining their details such as court date, place etc.
- Use the workplace situation carefully: avoid serving papers in the workplace as this may cause embarrassment and create antagonism and violence. It may be more appropriate to ring the respondent at work to arrange where to serve the papers. This will help to reduce potential hostility as the respondent can see that attempts have been made to avoid their embarrassment.
- 'Win friends' by showing an attempt to help: Provide helpful information to respondents, such as telephone numbers for the Citizens Advice Bureau etc. This may prevent respondents from becoming hostile.
Liaison with the police: it is important to keep in contact with the police, pre-warning them of intended visits and potential risks.
Verbal and non-verbal conflict resolution techniques: body language such as open hand gestures, attitudes such as 'not meeting aggression with aggression', and being passive, help to prevent the escalation of violence.
Work environment and equipment
Staff do not serve papers in a public house: there is a danger of violence from people who may be drunk and aggressive.
Mobile phones: staff use these to keep contact with the office or other agents. Cars parked facing outwards: staff park their cars facing outwards so they can make a quick escape if necessary. They also use old cars in less affluent areas to prevent drawing attention to themselves.
Keeping house doors open: if possible, employees try to ensure that doors are not closed behind them, so that they maintain their personal space and escape route.
Adapting dress: to avoid drawing attention to themselves, employees adapt their clothes to the particular job or work environment. They may dress casually in jeans and t-shirts or, when they need to reflect 'authority' (eg when seizing goods), they may wear a formal suit.
Risk assessment: there is a full risk assessment before doing any job. Company solicitors can provide details of offenders and particular locations to help assess the risk of violence.
Being prepared: employees 'prepare for the worst' in terms of violence and aggression, so they are better able to deal with situations if they arise.
Doubling up and providing cover: two people may attend a job if it is potentially difficult. Sometimes other private eye companies may be asked to back staff up as a favour that will be returned. Also, to improve safety without incurring extra costs on trips overseas, employees are allowed to take a friend with them, provided the friend pays.
Frequent contact: team members contact other staff in the office to give details of their intentions, location and timings. They telephone the office when they have completed serving papers or other work.
Inferring legal status: respondents are more likely to be co-operative if they believe that staff are agents of the court (eg 'I have papers from the County Court'). This gives some degree of authority and therefore protection.
Avoiding car repossession work: the very nature of seizing someone's car can aggravate a person. Intellekt tends to avoid this kind of work because the potential for violence is too high.
Turning a job down: staff can refuse a job if they consider it too risky.
Less effective measures
Some measures can be less effective than others, or have disadvantages:
- The cost of providing two or more agents for certain jobs can be difficult to justify. Car repossessions are particularly cost-prohibitive because they require three or four employees.
- Unpredictable behaviour: measures, such as trying to 'win friends' by giving helpful information does not guarantee the respondent will react reasonably.
The benefits and the costs
No incidents: No member of staff has been assaulted or felt the need to leave the scene in the past ten years. This suggests that the measures are very effective, given the potentially violent environment in which the company operates.
Confidence: staff report more confidence and less fear in their jobs. They do not avoid certain tasks because of the risks, which means that more work gets done.
Fewer days off: there has been no staff absence resulting from assaults or related sickness. This means that the company is more profitable.
A positive image: the company maintains a professional image.
Client satisfaction: there are few complaints from clients about how the company works.
- A non-confrontational and non-aggressive approach to the job does not cost anything.
- The company is able to work in higher risk situations in order to further their enquiries, which ultimately has a cost benefit.
- Sending two agents to high risk situations or locations may be necessary,
but it does incur extra costs.