With an increasing number of reports coming in about some door staff crossing the boundaries, Ciara Judge looks at students’ experiences with bouncers, and what the common misconceptions are on this subjective role within London’s nightlife
We all know the parody: a big guy, bald, neck rolls, puffer jacket and an aggressiveness that just won’t quit. We all have a story about ‘‘that unfair bastard of a bouncer’’ who man-handled you last night and, if you don’t, you’ll most likely know someone that does.
Regardless of the cliché that we’re all too familiar with, there are common misconceptions on the authoritative powers bouncers actually have. It’s believed that they can get away with overt aggressive demeanors and are allowed to use pressure points, pain compliance holds or wrist locks to manhandle their patrons. This is not true. The authority of door staff is the same as that of an ordinary citizen. 68% of the people we asked did not know this. They have no special authority to physically eject an intoxicated customer. Many claim that some untrained staff are often forced to rely on their own common sense to control aggressive behaviour. The situational dynamics of the bouncers’ environment naturally means that their role is exposed to violence. It’s no surprise that allegations of assault from both patrons and staff members are common.
We conducted an online survey and talked to a variety of people under the age of 30 about their experiences with bouncers that were considered too heavy handed. One student explains “most of the time bouncers are really subjective. On some occasions the attitude is very unfair.” Of the 38 people who filled out our survey, a whopping 47% of them reported to have had an experience with a bouncer that was considered too heavy-handed for their situation. One person told us how he was pepper sprayed and maced for no reason other than being next to a separate conflict, “they head butted me, threw me to the ground, and punched me in the back of my head.” A female described how her boyfriend was pulled out of the crowd; he was put up against a wall for accidentally spilling a drink. One student even showed us her formal complaint against security “I was forcibly dragged up the stairs. At no point did the security man give me a reason as to why. I was then chucked out.’’ These are just a few of the anecdotes we received.
Security staff also come into difficulty when it comes to drug use across venues in London. A bouncer who talked to VICE stated “you have to disrupt [drug use] just enough to make sure people get the message that it’s not legal. Any more…there’s not really any point putting the party on”. It’s said that they have to get the right balance, “If the police decide to ask awkward questions about the drug policy, I’m the first to take the blame. But if I get hard-ass…I’ll get fired.” There’s that partiality cropping up again. Speaking to students from Queen Mary, one describes how on a night out a bouncer planted a bag of MDMA when he was being patted down, “…turns out it was a joke but I’ve never felt my heart drop so quickly.” On the other hand, some have no tolerance; another patron explains how he was dragged out of the toilets. “They insisted I open the door because I blew my nose; they incorrectly assumed that I was taking drugs.” It seems as though it depends on the venue and the individual.
As a reporter, I’m not wholly surprised by these somewhat extreme disputes. It’s not all doom and gloom though, there were many anecdotes of bouncers going out of their way to help. Personally, one night I lost my friends who had my phone and purse, and they said if I couldn’t find my friends after half an hour I should go straight to them. I went back and they paid for my taxi home without hesitation. Additionally, 20 people out of the 38 had concluded that, for the most part, the attitudes of security are appropriate and fair. It’s a shame that the misrepresented minority of the ‘‘tough guy’’ and their undeniable subjectivity plagues the industry.
What makes a good bouncer? “Empathy is most important thing and stops 90% of problems before they occur,” an anonymous bouncer told VICE, “you need restraint; you’ll want to hit infuriating drunk people after a while. Satisfying? Yes. Productive? No.” Ideally the best bouncers are personable, a mix of male and female, mature and unintimidating. The best bouncers do not ‘‘bounce’’, they manage people.
With this industry, we should take their role with a pinch of salt. Their job is in the interest of the business and safety of the crowd; if you affect incoming custom, you are a problem. However, it is vital that if unreasonable or aggressive action takes place, complaints are made. 51% of people we asked chose not to make a complaint as they felt they wouldn’t have been taken seriously. This is why they fail to be investigated, and frequently fail to be brought to justice. But if there were a more solid attitude to the procedural method employed by both bouncers and venue staff anyway, it would have a detrimental impact on what seems to be a subjective role in London’s nightlife.