Many people believe that because someone is working in a position or assigned certain duties, they are competent and knowledgeable in performing their job duties. This is especially the case in situations when it involves someone in the law enforcement or security field. I went to an event recently that reminded me that is not always the case.

My wife had been invited to the event, a function hosted by a VIP, and I arrived before she did. As I came into the venue, I noticed there were two law enforcement officers in uniform standing outside the area of the main entry doors – their marked patrol vehicles very visibly parked nearby. The VIP had received threats, and while the chances of there being problems were very small, the law enforcement presence was a good idea as a deterrent to those who might want to cause a scene in front of the media who were present for the event.

I didn’t see anyone who I knew well enough to talk to, so I reverted to one of my favorite hobbies – “spot the plainclothes security or law enforcement person working the event.” If I were able to spot someone in that role, it might be important for me to know who else was armed at the event, and keep a general idea of where they were in the room. In case a serious incident happened, I would know who to watch out for and the best direction to move to get away from a conflict.

If I’m not working the event and identified in advance to other event staff, there is no reason for me to get involved in a situation unless my personal safety is at risk. Anyone working the event would not know who I was, and unless they were getting their butt kicked, would likely consider me an additional threat if I started to step in to assist in dealing with any problems that arose. Should something happen at the event, it’s good for me to know who is armed, so I can head in the other direction and get out of their way as they deal with whatever happens.

If there were no one matching that role, at least I would have a better idea of who was there, and if I saw anyone of concern who might pose a threat to anyone’s safety, I could keep an eye on what they were doing, and if they caused a problem, I would have a head start on getting out of the event quickly.

After more than 30 years of working special events of all types and sizes, working personal protection details for VIP’s, working as a street cop, and working undercover narcotics investigations, I have a lot of training and actual street experience in watching people and what to look for in these situations. I scanned the crowd, watching and assessing those present, looking for what was the “norm” in those who were attending, and then, looking for those who were out of place or acting different than the “norm.”

It didn’t take me long to spot him. At first glance, he fit in with those who were there, but I noticed he was talking with several event staff members. It was obvious he knew them, or had worked with them before. While I couldn’t put my finger on it immediately, there was just something in the way he acted, that made him look out of place. I started watching him more closely, and soon after saw the tell-tale-give-away.

His dark suit was cut normally, fitted to his body as a standard suit would be – and that was the problem – it hadn’t been tailored for his needs that night. The “slim style” that is currently popular may be in fashion, but it certainly doesn’t meet the concealed carry needs of people who need to be discrete. Without an additional two or three inches of size in the waist area, and without additional material added to help the suit flow over anything it covered instead of closely following its shape – the suit jacket was printing very badly – highlighting the firearm he was carrying on his waist at about the “four-o’clock” position.

Since I don’t know his name, for my convenience, I just call him “Bob.” I watched Bob’s movements as he walked around the event, and sure enough, it wasn’t just a bump caused by his colostomy bag. Although he was keeping his jacket unbuttoned to allow a little more room – it wasn’t enough. The shape of the gun’s edges, the back of the slide poking against the suit, and its location printing through his jacked made it obvious. On a positive concealment note, he was wearing a dark suit style vest, visually hiding the contrast his light colored shirt would have otherwise made with an open jacket.

Bob looked to be in his mid to late 20’s, and had a standard issue law enforcement or security haircut. I don’t know if he was actually affiliated with a particular agency, but his appearance made him stand out a bit from others who were there. He had some direct connection with the event staff, as I saw him talking with those I knew to be associated with the event in a way that indicated that they knew each other, and were comfortable with each other.

The conversations with staff soon made sense, a few minutes later the VIP and his wife arrived at the event, with them was one of their children. As I expected, Bob moved over closer to them, I assume to offer some degree of close protection should something occur. The VIP spoke to those gathered, and his family stood behind and off to the side. When the VIP finished, he and his family began to move out and talk with those people in the crowd who had gathered to congratulate him.

Now, let me say this. I don’t know if Bob was actually there to perform a security function. I don’t know if he was law enforcement, working for a security company, or just an event staff worker or volunteer. In some ways, I’m making some assumptions – but I believe based on what I saw, and my training and experience, those assumptions are probably very accurate in describing what I believe as a poor job being done by someone who should have done a lot better at their very important duties.

I appreciate competence. There is nothing I enjoy more that to see a true professional performing their job duties utilizing the skills they have mastered. In the special event and personal protection arena, I have been privileged to work high profile events with agents of the United States Secret Service. I have also worked with others who had a great deal of law enforcement and military training and experience in working similar events, and each time I did so, it was a learning experience for me. In short, I know a lot about what it takes to do a good job – Bob didn’t do a good job that night.

The first thing I noticed, was that Bob wasn’t paying attention, while he may have been standing near the VIP or his family, his focus was elsewhere. He had his smartphone out almost constantly. He was texting, reading messages, and otherwise had his attention focused on his electronic distraction, instead of watching those he was there for. Now here’s the thing, most if not all of the people present at that event – don’t know what a security guy needs to do. And if nothing goes wrong – then most everyone who is involved with the event will assume that the security guy did his job well. And Bob might even think so as well.

Being lucky is no substitute for being prepared, aware, and able to deal with any issue that comes up at an event like this one. Bob was lucky. A specific example I watched – at one point, instead of watching the VIP and his family, Bob was actively enthralled in doing something with his smartphone. Now, he was still standing near the VIP, so he probably assumed that he was doing his job, and if anything happened he would be able to sense that problem with enough time to put way his phone to deal with the issue.

The VIP’s wife saw someone she knew on one side of the facility, and walked over to talk with that person. Bob, after sending or reading his important text message, decided it was now time to divert his attention back to his job duties. He turned and looked toward the area where he had last seen the VIP’s wife, and she now wasn’t there. I saw the same look of panic on Bob’s face that I’ve seen many times before, and sometimes have had myself.

It’s that same look parents get when they turn away for only a moment, and then realize the child they are responsible for is not where they were a second ago, and is nowhere to be seen. From my vantage point, I was watching not only Bob, but the VIP, his wife and child, and others in the room. For a few seconds, Bob was freaking out with the “Oh Crap” look on his face as he quickly turned from side to side looking for those he was supposed to be watching. To his right he saw the wife and quickly moved in her direction. He moved too quickly, I guess to subconsciously make up for his inattentiveness, his speed wasn’t running, but it wasn’t a smooth movement and that once again made him stand out as obviously a bit out of place for that event.

Once he again got back within a close distance, he scanned those nearby, and then satisfied there was no reason for concern, he relaxed a bit. For a few minutes he paid attention as he should have been doing all along, but when nothing “exciting” happened, he once again allowed himself to lower his level of awareness, got out his phone and returned to start texting or whatever he was doing.

Watching for a few more moments, I started to get annoyed. I take safety and security issues very seriously, and to see how poorly Bob had been doing, and especially how low his awareness was, I was a bit frustrated. I then realized that even as an uninvolved observer, that I was actually doing more to keep the event safe that he was. I also began to speculate that if Bob had any real experience, such as in scanning the area for potential threats, he would have spotted, and then, would have been watching me.

When I arrived, I wasn’t on any pre-sign-up list. I gave my name and the person at the from entry check-in area wrote it down and gave me a nametag. Although I gave my own name, I could have given any name and walked right in. While many people there were dressed in suits, most were at least in polo style shirts and slacks. Because this is Nevada, there was also the jeans and cowboy boot wearing group.

I was wearing shorts, and an oversize shirt. Not in and of itself something too far out of the ordinary, but I didn’t see a single person who was dressed as “low key” as I was – I didn’t fit in. I had also taken a position toward the back of the room. This was in part for my comfort, I had a place to sit, or I could just lean against the wall and watch all the other people who were at the event. And that’s exactly what I was doing.

Since I got there, I was continually scanning the room. As someone would walk near me, I would watch them, take note of how they were dressed (and as I had done with Bob – look for any tell-tale signs of a concealed firearm), and make a quick assessment of who they might be, what they were doing there, and who they were talking to. Event staff, invited guests, other VIP’s, etc. Watching their behavior let me see if they fit appropriately into the event, and if not, what were the things about them that seemed out of place.

While doing this I had also looked to see where the building exits were, and I was watching to see what the building staff were doing, which guests were drinking heavily, who was enjoying themselves, and who wasn’t. A slightly drunk person who is angry or arguing with someone else could very easily turn into an ugly fight, and it’s a lot better to have a good layout of the room, and identify any potential problems BEFORE anything bad happens.

What I was doing, looking around and watching everything that is going on, is typical behavior of someone who is aware and alert to their surroundings. But, it also is not a standard or normal thing to see someone doing at this type of event. If I would have seen someone else looking around and scoping out the place as I had been doing – they would have been my number one person to keep an eye on. At least until I could ascertain if they were working security at the event, or otherwise not a threat.

But my buddy Bob was effectively oblivious to me. Well, some might say, you are a good guy, and not a threat. Yeah, I knew that, but no one else, especially Bob, knew that. At the very least, he should have seen that I was watching him very intently. When you are working a security function like this, you want to be practically invisible. Very subtle, very “gray” – blending in, looking like everyone else, with nothing that might draw attention to you. If someone notices you, you have either done something wrong, or – and this is why Bob should have spotted me – someone is actively looking for the security guy because they want to cause problems, and has I.D.’d YOU as being that security guy.

As the event continued and wound down, I kept watch on the VIP and his family – I figured based on what I had seen from Bob, someone at the event should take that responsibility seriously. Later after the event, I saw him again, he had removed his jacket, and he wasn’t wearing a gun then. So I scanned to see if he had any signs of a holster or something else, he didn’t, but his vest was high enough that his pant belt was showing, meaning the holster would have been clear and not covered by his vest. He was also carrying a smaller backpack – which I presumed carried his firearm and whatever else he was carrying earlier.

So what’s the point? Let me use this situation to offer several reminders. First: just because someone has a gun and/or a badge – doesn’t mean they are as skilled as they should be to be performing a particular security or enforcement role. Elsewhere on my website I have written extensively about people in the law enforcement and security field who may have meant well – but were not competent in doing their job duties.

Second: concealed means concealed. If you are carrying a firearm, you MUST alter your clothing to properly conceal your firearm. When you look in the mirror you may not be able to see any tell-tale signs, but as you walk, twist, bend over, etc. – others may. And it could be that they are not good guys, they might be intend on doing bad things, and having identified you as being armed – you may become their first target, a potential obstacle to be overcome.

Third: when you are armed, and for the entire time you are armed in a public place, you have given up your right to be complacent and unaware. While you might not have the responsibilities Bob did, you still need to watch for potential threats against your own family, and yourself. Even when there may be someone else who is armed and responsible for the safety and security of those at an event – doesn’t mean they can protect you and yours.

Remember that noticing the warning signs of what to watch for, being aware of someone who could cause problems, and having a plan in advance to take action if problems start (maybe the best plan would be to head for the nearest exit), can make the difference in avoiding trouble – or suddenly being hip deep in a series of really big problems…. Stay aware, and stay safe.