Professionally titled as Close protection operatives or CPOs, the modern-day bodyguard has evol
ved from the human shield or the imposing individual of an entourage, into a highly organised and wholly involved security and safety provider. Professionally trained bodyguards’ function in organic, complex situations that require constant risk and threat analysis combined with situational awareness, risk mitigation and preventative measures, allowing competent CPOs to establish effective security protocols. Furthermore, as every principal will be different, each CP team must be tailored specifically to the clients’ needs.
The HK Chief of Police’s office authorises every SPP application, processing includes criminal background check both locally and internationally. Beyond the basic process there is no distinguishing difference between a CPO ready SPP holder and a security officer fit for residential watchmen duties. Due to this lack of official qualifications, security agencies seek individuals with a plethora of certificates and qualifications and rely heavily on references from previous operations. It is often the case in Hong Kong that experienced and committed security officers are trained on the job to be an effective close protection operative.
This article is intended to give a brief overview of a very complex service. Though directives may be similar to “protect the principal”, no one contract has ever been the same as another where unique assessments and planning are required, this information is to be used as a first step into the close protection field.
Getting geared up
Some deployments may require additional equipment, but these are essential items every CPO needs:
Permits, IDs and travel documents – SPP, HKID, drivers licence Passport and Visas. These should always be on your person on in your kit bag. In a real example a celebrity VIP was invited to dine in Macau with 1 hours’ notice and travelled by helicopter from Hong Kong, one CPO did not carry his passport and was dismissed as a result.
Smartphone – Secondary communication as well as mobile internet access and apps. Carry a portable charger and cables to make sure you don’t run out of battery in the middle of an operation.
Two-way radio – Primary communication while deployed. Make sure equipment is fully functional with comms checks before they are needed. Always remember that even UHF radios have interference and can be jammed by faraday cage-like areas. Always speak slowly and clearly. (see our article on radio etiquette for more information)
Flashlight – Aside from it’s obvious use a powerful light can be used to attract attention, be used as a silent signal or even blind attackers. As a last resort it can also be used as a restraining tool or to apply pressure on a body
Pen & Paper – Never runs out of battery
First Aid Kit - At least a basic first aid kit: plasters, gauze dressing, bandages, safety pins, sterile gloves, tweezers, scissors, cleaning wipes, tape, thermometer, burn cream, antiseptic cream, painkillers, water. Additional resources may be necessary dependant on client needs
Snacks & Water – Though not always possible to have on hand, you could find yourself with no opportunity to eat or get a drink for an extended period. Some deployments go on for 16 hours with not enough time during breaks to get food.
Getting into the mindset
You are a security detail with operational and/or ground support not ‘hired muscle’ or fighters.
Focus on training soft skills such as; diplomacy, communication, time management, leadership etc.
Develop technical skills on surveillance equipment, counter-offense techniques, secure driving, and orientation.
You are not law enforcement and must operate within the local laws
Private security professionals have no special privileges in most regions including Hong Kong, make sure you are following proper procedure.
Fighting/discharging a weapon is always a last resort and is done with intention to protect the principal and lives
Keep fit and healthy
Know/learn your area of operation particularly vital ground (the area surrounding the principal). Hong Kong is a multicultural city with many religions and a somewhat progressive view on race and gender equality and issues, every country is different, even different states of the USA require different tact.
Study Maps and routes
Learn the culture, Guanxi & Mianzi
Research the infrastructure and social/political/conflict/news climate
Learn some local language if applicable
Be discreet and maintain strict confidentiality. Never name your past clients
Don’t take it personally if you are dismissed from duty
Personal preference can affect the principal's choice of CPO, qualified CPOs have been rejected due to height, weight, skin colour, even just their face.
Finally, understand the system of command and where support can be found;
Principal -> Client Company -> Security Company -> Security Operatives
In practice CPOs have tried to cut out either the client company or the security company in a bid to earn more money. The CPOs who have done this historically find themselves stuck and out of work should that one principal stop needing service. Security companies have the right to pursue legal action if you breach a contract, the client company may counter sue, in the end the biggest loser caught in the middle of it all is the CPO. Do not burn any bridges, it is a tight knit group and word spreads quickly, always stay professional.
The First Day on the job.
First impressions are important so prepare sufficiently and efficiently.
Make sure you have the appropriate equipment for your deployment (see Deployment Gear section for more info)
Understand your role in the security detail and your Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)
Effective Bodyguard; I.E escorting principal in proximity
Counter-surveillance; I.E identifying and removing spy hardware, wiretaps, paparazzi, and other invasive methods.
Advanced Reconnaissance; E.G scouting an area that will become vital land, booking a preferred table with quick exit routes, find key locations such as embus/debus
Vital Land surveillance; I.E setting up CCTV, ID check points, patrols etc
and more depending on the clients brief & security assessment
Dress accordingly and conservatively.
No jewellery or notably expensive branded clothing (Don’t wear a Rolex)
You may be going to a high-class establishment that requires formal wear on short notice.
It is unlikely you would be asked to wear a uniform but certain colours or styles may be required, you should ask the operations manager or team leader if you are unsure, you may even need to dress undercover or in plain clothes.
Always be early and always be ready to work OT
Follow the team leader but don’t hesitate to make observations and/or suggestions
Learn how to interact with your principal and how it changes in different environments.
Call your principal and his/her associates ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ (unless they tell you differently)
Do not interact with the principal unless prompted to or in an emergency. Keep operational questions and discussion within the security company and the client point of contact (usually a personal assistant/personal CPO)
Be civil and form a professional relationship but you want the act of grabbing your principal or speaking out to already indicate a problem allowing for quicker reactions and having their attention. Don’t get used to being ignored by talking all the time.
Understand how important or unimportant guanxi and mianzi is.
Maybe you are not supposed to accept an invitation to dine with their party? or it could be an insult to reject it. Find out by asking staff or colleagues.
Observe, listen, and learn, a better understanding of everything will help you navigate the endless list of potential encounters, threats, problems etc.
Regardless of experience, all active and prospective CPOs should be willing to learn
New skills directly related or not
Remember that an effective CP team is not just a shield for clients to hide behind in the face of danger. In fact, the operation ensures that the client never faces the dangers, with counter-surveillance, dummy ops, undercover investigations and more, leading to a detailed risk assessment followed by acute security and safety protocols. Nevertheless, CPOs need to be ready to protect and often defend their principal be it from physical harm, loss of valuables or even face-damaging incidents such as an unflattering photo or recording being spread around social media. When selecting and briefing a CP team it is important to note why they are needed. Does the principal have a life-threatening risk? Are they worried about invasive fans? Are they so famous that without proper security protocols and guidance the principal would be swamped with fans, causing delays? Maybe the principal simply wants to show his/her influence by having certain CPOs.