IN RESPONSE to recent incidents of an increase in drink spiking and customers being injected with muscle relaxants, night-time economy venues are being reminded by Police Crime Prevention Initiatives (PCPI) to ensure that all members of staff are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to the vulnerability of customers and their role in enhancing safety and prevention, while customers are being reminded to stay alert, look after each other and not to leave drinks unattended.
Mark Morgan runs the new Licensing Security and Vulnerability Initiative, which was developed at the request of the Home Office by PCPI, itself a police-owned organisation that works alongside the police service around the UK in a bid to deter and reduce crime. The Licensing SAVI self-assessment specifically covers drink spiking and the use of ‘date rape drugs’ in licensed venues and also offers salient advice on reducing risk.
Morgan stated: “I’ve read many of the recent media reports and have also spoken to people within the licensing industry across England and Wales over recent days who’ve highlighted trends of drink spiking within their areas and, more recently, incidents whereby the victim appears to have been injected with drugs. This is of huge concern at a time when there’s such a focus on the safety of women and girls.”
He continued: “There are simple steps which can be taken to avoid this scenario, from venues displaying prominent signage reminding customers not to leave their drinks unattended and not to accept drinks from strangers through to training all staff on the dangers of drinks being spiked and encouraging them to monitor unattended drinks. It’s also about making all members of staff aware of the necessity to provide immediate assistance to any customer feeling dizzy, disorientated or showing signs of intoxication. If anyone is acting suspiciously around unattended drinks, they should be asked to leave the premises immediately. We advise venues to call the police if acts of drink spiking are suspected. Venues should also consider providing stopper devices, such as lids to put on drinking vessels, which can reduce the risk of a drink being spiked.”
Further, Morgan said: “Regarding the use of injections, venues should consider their stance on searches and, where applicable, review their search policy. Door supervisors do not have the legal or statutory power to search any individual. However, a venue can have a ‘Condition of Entry’ whereby customers enter the premises on the condition that the security staff are permitted to search them. If they refuse consent, then they should be refused entry.”
According to Morgan, signage should clearly explain a venue’s search policy, which may include the use of metal detector wands or a detecting arch. Searches should be carried out courteously and as efficiently as possible, with good engagement between all parties. Random search policies ought to be undertaken at a frequency likely to act as a deterrent factor.
“The key here, of course, is education, engagement and proportionate measures,” asserted Morgan. “The current trend is well publicised so venues should not be afraid of explaining to their customers that the efforts undertaken are to ensure their safety and deter offences. It’s important that any offences or suspicious behaviours are reported to the police, who will then be able to analyse records to identify areas where they can target their activity and work in partnership to ensure safe socialising environments.”
Focusing on the customers, Morgan noted: “If their drink has been spiked, it’s unlikely that customers will see, smell or taste any difference, albeit some drugs may taste slightly salty or smell unusual. If they start to feel strange or feel that their drink has had more of an effect than it should have done, they must seek help immediately. It’s a good idea to avoid drinking too much alcohol, particularly when in unfamiliar surroundings as this could lead people to make risky decisions and become less aware of potential dangers.”
Customers should never leave their drink unattended and should also keep an eye on friends’ drinks, while being careful about accepting a drink from someone whom they don’t know. It’s best to think about drinking bottled drinks and avoid shared drinks such as punch bowls or cocktail jugs.
Chillingly, Morgan concluded: “Despite best efforts of any given venue and their partners, it’s likely that those determined to use controlled drugs within entertainment establishments will be able to do so. As such, I have previously supported on-site drug testing initiatives, which are able to quickly share information around dangerous drugs in circulation. They serve as a means of proactive harm reduction and minimise risk. Venue managers should liaise with their local police service regarding the undertaking of such measures.”
Alison Lowe, West Yorkshire’s Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, informed Security Matters: “It’s particularly shocking to hear of this trend emerging on both a local and a national level. Women should be able to go out and enjoy themselves without fearing for their safety. It’s as simple as that.”
Only recently, a pioneering partnership initiative, funded by the West Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit, was launched to help improve safety and security in bars, clubs and restaurants across the county. Dubbed ‘Licencing SAVI’ and supported by the West Yorkshire Health Care Partnership, it sees a total of 300 licensed premises across Bradford, Calderdale, Wakefield and Kirklees invited to take part in the scheme, which encourages venues to improve their operational security and management practices year-on-year.
Lowe stated: “This work, together with initiatives such as ‘Ask for Angela’, will undoubtedly contribute to the collective efforts designed to tackle issues such as drinks spiking and injecting in pubs and bars, but there needs to be a continued collaborative focus on addressing these worrying experiences. I would also urge anyone who has encountered any of these issues to please report it to the police. They will be believed and treated with sensitivity.”
For the first time, ‘Licensing SAVI’ brings together all of the information that licensees in England and Wales need to promote the four all-important licensing objectives, specifically the ‘Prevention of Public Nuisance’, the ‘Prevention of Crime and Disorder’, the ‘Protection of Children from Harm’ and ‘Public Safety’. Available as an online self-assessment, Licensing SAVI brings together definitive information on effective management practices and operational security including some straightforward safety measures. Many of those measures can be introduced quickly and at little or no cost. Some may not have been considered by licensed premises in days gone by.
Importantly, completion of the self-assessment can lead to accreditation and an award with a star rating for display to show a given establishment’s efforts that have been undertaken to enhance safety and security.
Action to be taken
Shahzad Ali, CEO at security training and staffing platform Get Licensed, has outlined what he firmly believes needs to be done in order to make nightclubs safer environments.
“All forms of spiking are really worrying,” said Ali, “but the more aggressive form of needle spiking is even more concerning. Incidents are increasing and venues are unable to act because there’s currently a shortage of security staff in the country. A lack of skilled CCTV operators at venues compounds the issue still further, with security teams unable to pick up on the warning signs before culprits strike.”
Ali continued: “No-one should ever go to a nightclub and feel like they’re unsafe. It should be a safe environment for people to go to and have a good time. While the country deals with a security staff shortage driven by Brexit, COVID-related repatriation and low wages not matching inflation and the risks involved with such roles, we must seek new solutions for these problems.”
On that note, Ali elaborated: “We need to focus on training and making sure that security personnel can make a judgement on whether someone has been spiked as well as proper CCTV training so that people know what to look out for. I would also advise additional trained staff so that these establishments have more eyes on the people coming in through the door.”
Given that needle spiking is still an extremely new trend, there are still gaps in training programmes to help combat this problem. “This issue was raised as an area of concern at the Security Industry Authority’s recent Quarterly Seminar, so we will expect to see it added to the various security training programmes soon. For now, the training covers the steps that security officers should take to protect vulnerable people.”
Part of the training includes that for the aforementioned programme ‘Ask for Angela’ which people can use to alert any worker at a venue that they’re in danger. Staff can then act accordingly, along with making sure all evidence of any drug use is reported to the police and that the evidence is stored safely.