SPOT the Difference

Detecting suspicious behaviours

In our high-tech world, it is easy to overlook the simpler and more obvious human solutions to the challenges we face and nowhere is this truer than in the security arena and the protection of crowded and public spaces.

Technology has a role to play of course, be it the provision and monitoring of CCTV, sniffer detection systems, access controls including body and bag scanners and so the list goes on. However, we should not overlook the contribution that staff who work in these spaces can make. Collectively providing a powerful mass observation tool that can be mobilised with just a little training. We refer to this as turning everyone into a human radar through use of the old fashioned but highly effective MK 1 eyeball coupled with our instinctive ability to know when something is not right or ‘sixth sense’.

So how can we best exploit this latent security asset? The answer is by enhancing our staff’s situational awareness skills, encouraging them to engage in active observation and giving them simple but effective guidance on what constitutes suspicious behaviour. We can enable them to quickly identify and disregard the normal but home in on the abnormal then quickly assess what they see and if appropriate engage or report the event to the appropriate authority.

It works too, it constantly amazes us how quickly non-security personnel can be taught to actively observe, assess and to develop an understanding of what does and does not constitute suspicious behaviour using a simple assessment framework. We have developed our own system based on what we teach to students on our Complex and Hostile Environment Training courses.

We call it Suspicious Persons Observation Training (SPOT) and it is designed to be used by security and non-security personnel alike. The system provides a methodology for identifying what’s normal, we call this the baseline, and it focusses on profiles and behaviours. In addition, we also look at other generic factors, proxemics, biometrics and kinesics. To put it simply, this is how individuals and groups interact with each other, physical signs of stress and body language.

This system can be taught in just a few hours and mobilises your workforce into your first line of defence. As a result, you will see detection rates increase for everything from petty criminals to those with more serious intent.

There are of course challenges not least ensuring that there are not too many false identifications and that all resulting interactions with the public are conducted diplomatically, thus, avoiding any negative impact on your customer base or the wider general public. This requires soft skills training for those who are required to interact with the public as part of the process.

It is also important to maintain your staff’s level of awareness over time, this is more challenging but can be achieved through frequent security awareness campaigns, regular staff meetings and briefings and the use of internal communications to illustrate activities that have been disrupted due to SPOT. In addition, exercises using role players to conduct suspicious activity then recognising those who successfully identify it, can be used to introduce an element of competition and reward.

For more information about behavioural detection techniques and training including the SPOT system contact us at

David Curran MA FCIPD MSyl