Security officers will often have to rely on their own senses when they are observing a situation which ultimately requires their intervention to one extent or another. When conducting surveillance or when casually observing a situation for a period of time, the security officer will need to describe the appearance of subjects and possible suspects if a crime or offense has occurred. When conducting a preliminary investigation at the scene of a possible crime, the security officer will need to rely on his/her own observations for a comprehensive and truly significant representation of the facts. The accuracy of the security officer’s observation will often depend on the training they have received and their ability to communicate with others both orally and in written form. Security officers must be trained to describe as well as observe.

Use of Senses

In recording the data at a scene, the security officer must employ his or her senses; primarily those of sight, hearing, smell, and touch. Security officers should never intentionally use their sense of taste in an effort to test a substance. The many examples displayed on television where the private investigator or police detective touches a substance and announces the contents, (for example): “This is pure heroin!” is simply a farce. To taste a substance which could be lethal would result in the death of a security or law enforcement officer. The eye is the greatest source of information, but in the absence of training it is also one of the most unreliable due to the tendency of the observer to fill in the gaps that inadequate observation may leave. Hearing is the most objective sense; however, the observation of sound is subject to errors such as mistaken estimates of distance and illogical comparisons. The sense of touch is usually unreliable because of the inexperience of most persons in the accurate use of this sense. Smell, the olfactory sense, is considered to be for the most part unreliable because it is easily swayed by suggestion. The sense of taste suffers from the same defect.

It has been estimated by pathologists that approximately 85% of our sensual knowledge is gained through sight; 13% through hearing; and the remaining 2% through smell, touch and taste. The reliability of the information obtained through the particular sense may be considered to be in the same relation.

Facts Affecting Observation

If a person is a witness to an incident involving violence to another person with whom they are emotionally close to such as a mother, father, daughter, son, husband or wife, their observations may have been altered or perhaps even enhanced. Consider a mother who witnesses the death of her child from injuries sustained in an automobile accident. The mother may not be able to recall specific details about the incident or she may be able to provide explicit details since the event is so ingrained in her mind.

The point to be made is that an effective investigator must take into consideration how emotions, the environment and the physical limitations of any witness may adversely affect their ability to recall actual events as they occurred. A witness who has poor eyesight may be a poor witness if it is later proven that the person was not wearing their glasses at the time of the incident. Poor lighting or inclement weather conditions may affect the degree of accuracy with which a witness actually witnessed the suspect commit the crime.

The effective investigator or security officer who is responding as the first person to the scene of an incident will note the physical conditions at the scene such as lighting, weather, obstruction points, as well as the emotional and physical condition of any material witnesses. A security officer who searches the adjacent area to an incident scene may discover additional evidence which will alter, prove or disprove the stated facts.