Festival security, drug searches and your safety – an insider’s guide

Festival security, drug searches and your safety – an insider's guide, 2018 update

Three years ago, we posted up information about your rights when attending a festival, with straight talking advice on the potential pitfalls of smuggling in booze and drugs.

The article proved hugely popular, and the author has now sent us a comprehensive update, which we hope you’ll find informative:

Festival security, drug searches and your safety – an insider's guide, 2018 update

Festival security, drug searches and your safety – an insider’s guide

Rather than just focusing on drugs, the advice is more to keep you safe, legal(ish) and to ensure that you know your rights. The security industry works on a “blag them” premise – they will imply that you have to do something rather than tell you to do something they can’t actually make you do. Oh – when I say rights – I also mean responsibilities. I’m not going to give you a full on “aiding and abetting” piece of work, I kind of expect people to be decent human beings and show some common sense.

Drugs – yes, we know. You do them. Some of our guys do them. What we want you to do is – not die. Hence the appearance of testing units at festivals. We don’t need a 45 minute chat about the medical benefits of CBD, we just want you to look after each other be honest about what you’ve taken and help us keep people alive. Do not run off and leave your mate in a hole.

Do not think we are just out to nick you – if we ask what you have taken, it’s to give us time to help the medics. If you say “nuffink” – you may be met with a slightly more aggressive line of questioning. This is because you are wasting our time and your friend’s time. If you think there are dodgy drugs doing the rounds, tell us. Describe them to us. What we don’t want is a batch of rat poison on site killing people.

Beautiful Days festival, August 2012 at Escot Park, Nr Fairmile, Devon, England, EX11 1LU, with bands, performers, dance, theatre, comedy and more

Camp sites – we know. You do drugs. Look out for people on camp sites – if it looks wrong, then tell us. It doesn’t make you a grass, it makes you someone who is acting like a human. Make friends with the guys up the towers – they will look out for you. They are human too. If you are rolling up, smoking, etc – and a security guy appears beside you, don’t then try and hide it. By that point, it’s generally too late. Try and enter a discussion with them.

Do the usual “sorry, won’t happen again, I got it in the main arena, etc, etc”. If it’s weed, we may just walk on by with a smile having watched you all dive around like you are Pablo Escobar hiding a multi million brick.

Under 18s – they are children. Keep them safe. If they are picked up, they go into the system as they are children. I think the point is made – children. We have to phone Mummy or Daddy – or social services are called because of child endangerment. Think about under 18s in your group. Letting them wander around with a can of Tennents because they do it at home – not good. They are still legally children. Just try and be decent human beings for this one.

Beautiful Days festival, August 2012 at Escot Park, Nr Fairmile, Devon, England, EX11 1LU, with bands, performers, dance, theatre, comedy and more

Searching – they are a condition of entry. If you don’t want to be searched, you don’t come in. Don’t make up some weird excuse as to why they can’t touch you, etc – they will simply get you a refund and wave you off, or they will check the legalities of what you are claiming. Having had a person with a leg brace claim that it couldn’t be touched – which was vetoed by a Doctor on site – and it was full of drugs, surprise – this is not the way ahead.

No matter how clever you think you might be, you’ll just end up being spun around – or spun full stop. Remember that policing levels at festivals is still quite high – if security think you are playing a game, they will hand you over to people who have more rights than they do.

You are supposed to be asked if it is OK to search you every single time. There are supposed to be records kept of all searches. Hey – if you’ve got a festival of 120,000 people, how long do you reckon it’s going to take to do this?

Be realistic. If you want to go all “my Dad’s a solicitor and he says…” be prepared to miss the opening act or seven. If anything is seized, it’s NOT unrealistic to expect to see it placed into an evidence bag and recorded – not into a pocket. We know it happens – sometimes the best place to buy drugs is the security compound, let’s be honest here.

If you are an artist, don’t get arsey when searched – and don’t be a dick about bringing your stash in. Seen lots of Z list DJs get booted for trying to bring stuff in – and a few higher than Z list too. And we hate “Plus One” when it’s your – ahem – crew/squad. We know they bring the shit in for you. Unless you are Snoop Dogg, Noel/Liam, Dave Grohl, you are not likely to have a lot of bargaining power in this.

If you are searched, it must be compliant and based around surface area only – they cannot go under clothing to search. They are allowed to ask you to remove a coat/jacket/jumper, but that’s it.

They can search quite thoroughly – and well trained security staff are good at this. You will know how good they are when you are first “touched” – if they start with a collar check, you are probably meeting someone that has been trained by someone with a background in military, police or prison searches.

They are not allowed to touch genitals, but are allowed to “back hand” your buttocks/boobs – and also to run their hands up the insides of your legs. They will search by touch and will find stuff. If they ask you to empty pockets, etc – then just do it. Don’t give it the “oh, I forgot I had that” – it’s bullshit that will get their senses up to search harder.

Festival security, drug searches and your safety – an insider's guide, 2018 update

Bags – the bane of the searchers life. They will search like a dog for the first hour – then after 1000 rucksacks, tents, equipment sledges, etc – they will tail off. Dogs are limited to times, people aren’t. The welfare for the sniffer dogs is far better than for the staff…remember that hands should not go in bags during the search – should be emptied out or using a wand to move stuff inside. Don’t claim they have nicked your iPhone8 when you can’t afford shoelaces, you don’t want to make an enemy of the security staff.

Dogs – are good. Do not buy the pouches, safes, wallets, sprays etc – they don’t work. Well, there are a few that do, but I’m not giving any answers on that one! Most punters are thick – seriously, thick. They will handle their stash, put it in the pouch, seal it and think they are Howard Marks.

They have, of course, just covered the outside of the pouch in residue…always raises a smile that one. If the dog gets you, you are generally pretty much bang to rights. You’ll be taken to one side and questioned or searched again – normally in police presence. This is a “good time” to cough up.

If they so much as suspect you are plugging, you will either be ejected or taken to the toilet. Good security will ask questions – if you hand over what you have, and it’s reasonable, you will generally be told off but allowed in. If you hand over bagfuls of the stuff, then you are going to get treated as PWIS.

If you only hand over some and they find more (they will always search you again by the way) then you are throwing chance to the wind. Play the game. (If someone says “Get the lube and the gloves” – this is generally a ploy to make you think you are about to get anally invaded. It works so often it’s fun for us to play. Seriously, your balloon-knot is not something I find attractive and I am not about to get knuckle deep in it. But PC Plod might…)

Attitude – goes a long way. There’s always a decent security person there – don’t try and strike up a rapport with the steroid raging muscle monkey who has the death stare – he’s not playing the game unless it involves choking you out for some sort of psycho-sexual reward. And they still exist sadly. Look for the one who looks like he “gets it”. A good rapport will help – if you try and bravado it, you’ll lose. If you get aggressive – you’ll lose. Passive is the way ahead.

Jackets – stewards are the low paid, unqualified guys and girls that work their arses off. They are sold the job based on getting paid to work at a festival, end up on night shifts on a perimeter line. They have no powers (but then again, nor do the others really, just don’t let on that you know this). They are cold, wet, unloved. Love a steward.

Festival security, drug searches and your safety – an insider's guide, 2018 update

Response – the meatheads. We love this job. We get to run around dealing with stuff and looking like rejects from a SWAT team. Generally, get out of the way if we are moving at high speed, we find it hard to stop.

We are trying to get away from the high combat boots, rolled up sleeves and mirrored aviators, but there will also be some that look a bit too “Village People/Third Reich” to be honest. If you’ve cocked up, you will meet these people. They understand the use of force and citizens arrest. They do not have any special powers, some think they have super powers.

Security – can be anywhere. Low wages, long hours, shit conditions. Share your chewing gum with them. They will appreciate it. You will find some absolute jobsworths in here, but most of these people are just earning a few quid. We can earn £500-£600 over a festival on three days. Lots are Uni students, second jobbers. Some are career security.

Beautiful Days festival, August 2012 at Escot Park, Nr Fairmile, Devon, England, EX11 1LU, with bands, performers, dance, theatre, comedy and more

Dog Handlers – odd people. Live in vans with dogs. Smell odd. Dogs range from lovely to sociopathic. Do not pet the dogs – if one sits down, you are in for a question and answer session. Dogs do not get it wrong – it’s a battle of wits if they indicate on you. Fortunately, some of the staff are not in possession of a full “wit” and you may get away with it. 50/50 on that one though.

Girls – can only be searched by girls. This is NOT a legal requirement, more of an ethical/social one. It just looks better. Don’t think you can load your girlfriend up with stuff and send her down the queue – she will just get girl-searched or dog-searched. Guys – you will be searched by guys. Do not go “Come on love, you can search me” – it’s boring after the 100th person. And it won’t happen.

Now – LGBTQ etc etc. You are to be searched by what/whoever you identify as. Don’t do it for a laugh, be serious. You are still entitled to the same treatment, same rights, etc. You could ask to be searched behind a screen as well. Do not claim you can’t remove anything for religious reasons, etc – you just won’t get in. Or the clever festivals will have cultural search teams… 😉

Search wands pick up metal. Nothing else. If you bring a weapon in then you deserve to be disembowelled. Security take a dim view of things that might hurt them. Don’t plead self defence/cooking purposes – doesn’t work. Also liquids – you may be asked to put some drops on your hand. You know why. If it burns, do not expect first aid to come rushing to you. You deserve it.

Beautiful Days festival, August 2012 at Escot Park, Nr Fairmile, Devon, England, EX11 1LU, with bands, performers, dance, theatre, comedy and more

Kids – ah. This is where ethics comes in again. Under 16s generally won’t get the full on pat down. Again, not illegal, just a perception thing- you’d be amazed how many staff have the full Enhanced DBS and not just the basic DBS issued under the licence. If you choose to give your Class As to a 12 year old, you probably deserve to get your nuts bitten off by a rusty-toothed German Shepherd.

But it happens. And they get caught. Under 18s are children – legally. They will be dropped into the social services system quicker than shit down a hot toilet if found to be breaking the law. Prams – don’t be a cock. Seriously. Again – nothing stopping them being searched, but if you are using a baby to get stuff in, you need sodomising with a cactus.

Booze – there has been a rise in “you can carry it, you can have it” – but again, don’t give it to kids. Don’t try and hide your “plain view safe” in the booze either – the dogs will get it.

Pringles – yep, seen that so many times. Most security will balance and rattle the tube. Same with loaves of bread. Of course, if they are tired, then you are increasing your chance of getting away with it.

Security Management – not always the best idea to stand there demanding to see them. They won’t come. We have management structures for this purpose. We also lie and get our mates to pretend to be management to get shot of you. Just be reasonable, generally so will we.

Beautiful Days festival, August 2012 at Escot Park, Nr Fairmile, Devon, England, EX11 1LU, with bands, performers, dance, theatre, comedy and more

NOS – this was interesting in that it was under the Psychoactive Substances Act – but then get turned over in court. Now the organisers are including it in their conditions of entry. It will get in, it’s a lucrative sideline. I don’t believe anyone has died from it yet, but then again nobody has died from wedging a hamster up their arse and setting fire to it. Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea and there’s always a first time. If you are caught with it, hand it over. Same with balloons, crackers, cream dispensers, etc.

Legal highs – aren’t. They are also more dangerous. Google Spice and see what an epileptic zombie looks like. Just say no. If you want to wedge fish food up your nose, your choice. Same with plant food, etc. We know what it is, you know what it is. Because some spotty Uni geek has modified the chemical composition doesn’t mean it works or it’s safe. Seen some nasty outcomes on this one. Don’t be a victim.

Beautiful Days festival, August 2012 at Escot Park, Nr Fairmile, Devon, England, EX11 1LU, with bands, performers, dance, theatre, comedy and more

Personal safety – when you are off your tits, you are a victim. Don’t take your expensive shit to a festival. Buy a cheap burner phone with a PAYG SIM. Nothing to lose then. Tents – do not put them up against the wire fences, the little shits will crawl under, razor open the backs, steal you stuff.

And putting it in your socks/sleeping bag/used knickers won’t help. Look out for each other, especially festival and drug virgins. Predators are out there and use festivals for targets. We know about tent rapes/attacks.

We have instances of drugs being used for these purposes. These people do not think like us. They will feed people Ket and tell them it’s Coke – they don’t care about the price, they have an endgame. And because this person is your mate/boyfriend/girlfriend it doesn’t make them trustable. Camp Bestival last year…

So – basics are – don’t die. Don’t let mates die. Don’t let strangers die. Be a generally nice human being, even to the ones in big boots and mirrored aviators. They all need loving. And don’t assume that the bloke/girl looking shady and trying to flog you drugs is not a copper… 😉

This piece is by TheInsider, who has 30 years experience in security at all sorts of events. Updated July 2018

More info

Join in with the discussion on the urban75 forums.
Read more about drugs and the law here
See our festival coverage here

External link: How to Fool A Sniffer Dog

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