Bouncers are to carry handcuffs for use as a last resort against violent clubbers. Is it right that they should be allowed to use equipment normally reserved for police?
By Duncan Walker
BBC News Online Magazine
Disorder on the dance floor has long been the bread and butter of bouncers, those nightclub foot soldiers with the power to make or break a night out.
Door staff have a mixed reputation at clubs and pubs
Theirs is not always an easy life, with the powers of persuasion and brawn often the only tools available for dealing with alcohol-sodden teens, fighting revellers and everything in between.
One security firm is now going a step further, by issuing handcuffs to its senior staff as a last option for dealing with the most serious offences.
It says the move will make things safer for everyone, but is it right for bouncers to be carrying a device normally associated with police?
An average night at a busy club in any UK town will see at least one person thrown out, says Michael Quinton, head of Guardit International, the firm set to use cuffs.
Normally it's nothing worse than a question of sending on their way someone who has had too many lagers, but things can sometimes take a nasty turn.
It is on these occasions that bouncers will want to call in police, but, with officers frequently overstretched, they can't count on help arriving immediately.
In such circumstances, using handcuffs until police arrive will make the job of door staff easier and safer, while protecting the culprit from the injuries that restraint can sometimes cause, says Mr Quinton.
"A couple of weeks ago we had to detain a gent for 40 minutes before the police arrived," he adds. "To have someone cuffed and placed in a secure area is better than having someone held down for the same time."
Guardit security staff at a club in Fareham, Hampshire, will carry handcuffs from Thursday and there are plans for those at another 20 venues across the UK to be issued them soon.
The idea has not gone down well with everyone.
"It's quite a worrying development," says human rights group Liberty, which thinks cuffs should be used by police alone.
Clubs regularly have to deal with troublemakers
"The law is very confused on this issue," it warns. "It's undoubtedly true that bouncers are allowed to use a modicum of force to defend themselves and restrain someone.
"It's not in itself an offence to use cuffs on someone, but it could very well become one."
The point, according to Liberty, is that door staff have no more right to restrain people - with or without cuffs - than the man or woman on the street.
Rank and file
Handcuffs can cause bruising and there is a strong possibility that door staff who use them could find themselves subject to legal action for injuries, says Liberty.
There is also the issue that if you allow bouncers to use handcuffs, then why not say it's also okay for a store keeper who has suffered shoplifting, or a householder who catches a burglar?
Rod Dalley, vice chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales - which represents rank and file officers is also concerned.
He says: "The plans to allow door staff to use handcuffs cause us great concern and we fear it may cause more problems than solutions."
Police have to adhere to tough Home Office guidelines, and "once an officer makes a decision to detain a member of the public using handcuffs, that officer has to justify that decision against those guidelines," says Mr Dalley.
All Guardit International staff set to carry handcuffs are fully trained in their use and will get refresher courses, is Mr Quinton's response.
It means his staff will have a level of training that goes beyond that offered by regulatory body the Security Industry Authority, which requires that door staff are vetted and trained, but not that they are instructed in intervention or physical restraint.
While there is no suggestion that the company's staff are not properly trained and vetted, there is concern about what will happen if its scheme is adopted industry-wide.
It remains the case that many bouncers have an "unsavoury reputation", says Liberty, and that many should not have such powers.
"Nightclub security is now regulated, but one still has enormous fears about it and the nature of some of the people employed."