A personal view of close protection
My brief is to give my perspective of this very specialised role, the close protection officer. A tall order in many ways as it’s difficult to encapsulate the many diverse dynamics of an extremely complex service within a relatively short article. Complex? Well, in 20 or so years of my experience in providing this service, no one provision has ever been the same.
So what is today’s close protection and what makes a good Close Protection Officer (CPO)?
I can honestly say I’ve experienced the good, the bad and certainly the ugly sides of the industry, in various corners of the world with personnel of virtually every background. Even with the best experience and training, it always comes down to the individual and how they approach their Principal (the VIP), the client (the company which has engaged you), the task, their team mates and, importantly, themselves.
These provisions are always a challenging balancing act. How they are initially approached and engaged can make all the difference between how easy, or not, the task will run. The threat can sometimes be the easiest part to manage. Managing the Principal and the client, less so. In my experience, 90% of Principals have never had a provision before and their only understanding is from what they’ve seen on TV or in the movies. There are also those who’ve had prior experience, and perhaps not a good one and you inherit their bad experiences and negative preconceptions. Remember, they’re entrusting their (or their family’s) safety to someone they’ve never met before. Getting it right from the get-go is essential.
What are the basics for any Close Protection Officer (CPO)?
- First impressions are important. Time-keeping (never be on time, always be early).
- Always come to the task well-dressed (you can always dress-down, never up), dress conservatively, no jewellery (chains, earrings), good hygiene (not unshaven or too much cologne).
- Always carry your passport and driving licence (rapid response is standard).
- Discretion and confidentiality (never name your past clients).
- Keep physically fit (train hard, fight easy).
- Work hard on your ‘soft’ skills (‘hard’ skills are easy, ‘soft’ aren’t).
- Always call your Principal and Client ‘Boss’, ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ (until they tell you differently).
Remember, you could be doing everything right, but your face doesn’t fit. Don’t take it personally. I recall one occasion where a Principal dismissed seven extremely qualified CPOs before settling with the one they felt the most comfortable with. Another key thing to also always remember; if you ever have a serious disagreement with your Principal, client or team mates, either suck it up or walk away quietly and professionally. Never burn bridges. This is a very small industry and word moves far, wide and very quickly. Lastly, never forget your chain of command; principal, client, and company which has engaged you. This system is there to not only help but also protect you. And never ever give your personal business card to the Principal or client. The CPO who forgets these points will likely find their phone going very quiet.
What are the key components to delivering CP?
Well, whether you’re in hostile environs (like Iraq or Afghanistan), covering a businessman or even a red carpet event with some Hollywood-type, close protection is always a balancing act between keeping the Principal safe, first and foremost, and providing what can only be best described as facilitation.
The first part is often the easiest part. The facilitation is the tricky but very integral part. Accepting that we are as much ‘facilitators’ as we are ‘protectors’ is absolutely critical. If you don’t agree and don’t want to do this – good luck! Experience will prove otherwise. None of us want to do this, but as I’ve said, it’s a balancing act and never agreeing to carry bags, run errands or lend a hand, within reason, can easily and very quickly see you out of your job. There are times, however, when you can and must decline, which I will come to a little later.
The ‘modern’ CPO also has to be an incredibly versatile and intuitive person. Principals can be arrogant, impolite, obfuscatory and sometimes even dangerous (to themselves). You, as the CPO, can’t be. Thankfully, most Principals I’ve worked with have been a pleasure, but I’ve also had my fair share of tricky ones. Frequently the hardest part can be their assistants and support staff. They often don’t want (or believe they need) our presence. Assistants can believe they are as ‘important’ as their Principal and should be treated as such. This we have to accept. If their behaviour or requests actually increase the threat to the Principal, be prepared, you might need to consider withdrawing from the job (always politely and professionally).
Remember, if a threat materialises and you can’t protect your Principal because an assistant has had you run an errand, who will be to blame?
I recall an occasion where a Principal was debussing into a venue. The assistant screamed at the CPO to help with bags. If the Principal had been attacked and the CPO couldn’t easily obtain his weapon due to carrying a bag, it wouldn’t have ended well. Equally, be careful of what errands you run. As mentioned earlier, these can be perfectly innocent mundane tasks and very difficult to decline. However, be aware there is always a risk you could find yourself, quite innocently, in a wrong place –wrong time situation. As I said at the beginning of this article, being a CPO is a complex tasking that exposes us to a wide diversity of risks; many known and some that might not appear that obvious.
So what of the ‘job’ itself?
I’ve seen a significant increase in clients reverting to a more Reactive Observation Protection or Reactive Counter Surveillance level of protection that is more stood-off, less intrusive but with the ability to close in, when needed. Of course if you’re in the hostile environs or the threat is very high, your reaction distance is critical and this would not be feasible. However, unless this is the case, most Principals are less likely these days to accept you brushing shoulders with them. But this of course creates new issues. First being the ability to control a larger section of the vital ground (the immediate space within which the Principal is located or moving). To provide this level of protection the CPOs need to have the suitable skills, experience and confidence to detect the threat and associated indicators from this more distanced position. Meaning advanced levels of counter and anti-surveillance are an essential and critical skill in any CPO’s ‘toolbox’. Which brings me to my last point (although I could probably think of a hundred more); the most important point, in my opinion, is that we should always have an eagerness and willingness to learn.
Whether you’re a CPO, a company providing them or a client who engages them, we all (myself included) can always learn more and must remind ourselves we need to evolve as much as the threats do. The key objective is in keeping ahead of the threats and the more we learn the better an advantage we’ll have in doing so.
Managing Director, ICP GROUP Companies
See also from Will Geddes:
Resilience – isn’t it just business continuity planning?
Stalking – how to regain control