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Tips For Preventing Process Server Assault

  • September 18, 2012
  • by Kimberly Faber

As assault against process servers becomes more and more common, it’s important to know what steps you can take to protect yourself. Whether it’s adopting a certain tactic, taking self-defense courses, or talking to experienced process servers, there are a number of ways you can ensure your own safety when out on a serve.

Here are a few assault prevention tips as shared by process servers on the Official Facebook Fanpage, the Process Servers LinkedIn Group, readers of the PI News Roundup, and more. We also consulted Davy Keith of the Mississippi Association of Professional Process Servers (MAPPS), Steve Glenn of the Process Servers Association of Colorado (PSACO), and Mark Schwartz from the California Association of Legal Support Professionals (CALSPro).

Checklist for process server safety

1. Never assume the serve will be safe

Even if a serve is something as mundane as a deposition subpoena or a summons for a past due bill it’s still important to stay alert. Though you may not conduct background research on every serve, it’s important that you are always aware of the situation and your surroundings to prevent an assault.

2. Read a portion of what you are serving

In this tip, Davy Keith notes that looking at the documents can provide you with red flags. “Many times there are clues in the papers that could indicate that you need more information about the service before you attempt it,” he said. Check for indicators of potential violence such as temporary restraining orders that include allegations and complaints of violence, drug, and excessive alcohol use.

3. Ask your client if the person has a violent history

In addition to understanding the who, what, and why of the serve, Keith notes that the best source for additional information is the client or in some cases the client’s client. According to Keith, some of the important questions to ask are:

  • How is this person going to react when I serve him or her?
  • Does he or she know this is coming?
  • Does he or she use drugs or drink excessively?
  • Has he or she ever been arrested?
  • Has he or she ever been charged with assault?

Keep in mind that you can’t always rely on your client to be aware of and inform you of the person’s propensity toward violence, so it may be necessary to conduct additional background research.

4. Understand that you don’t have to take every paper

It’s important to compare the danger of the serve with how much you stand to profit from it. You are not required to take on every serve, and in some situations, it may not be worth the effort and danger. Davy Keith provides the following example:

“Let’s say I pick up a complaint that alleges drug and alcohol abuse in it (domestic service). I decide to question the client . . . I discover that the defendant has a bad drug problem, has been arrested for an assault on numerous occasions and is known to carry a gun. It’s a good idea to ask yourself at this point if $55 or whatever you are charging is worth a trip to the ER or even the morgue.”

5. Take extra precautions when serving at night

"Certainly we'd all prefer to be able to serve documents during daylight hours but that's just not practical, especially after summertime," process server Mark Schwartz notes. "Be aware that the recipient may be more uncomfortable and suspicious of a stranger knocking on their door after dark, which can heighten danger and the person's propensity toward violence." 

Schwartz recommends carrying a small flashlight but to only use it respectfully and only when necessary. "Always keep in mind how you feel when someone comes to your door at night and treat people the way you'd want to be treated," he concludes. "Remember, no situation is the same. What works for one serve may not be the best approach for another."

6. Park your car as though you’ll need to get away

Many process servers share this tip. When approaching a serve, park your car in such a way that if the serve gets violent or tense you will be able to make a quick exit. If you must pull into a driveway, it’s a good idea to reverse in, and if the street is not too busy you may consider parking on the street.

7. Never go inside the person’s house

Regardless of why or how the person invited you in, it’s never a good idea to enter the home of a person you are serving as it puts you in an incredibly vulnerable situation. Another person in the house may have a violent intent, and you expose yourself to a variety of additional dangers. If the person invites you in, politely decline the invitation and agree to wait at the door.

Tips for a process server

8. Have the right attitude

"The worst possible thing a process server can do is go to a person’s home with a bad attitude," Keith explained. "I can’t stress that enough." Most process servers agree that getting yelled at and cursed at is just part of the job, but how you handle it is important. If you can’t remain calm in a tense situation or get worked up easily, process serving may not be for you. Always be respectful and kind to the people you serve.

9. Keep the situation calm and diffuse tense situations

"The best thing to keep in mind is to not escalate the situation," Keith continued. It’s important to diffuse a tense situation rather than provoke it. Many other process servers agree and note that provoking someone who is already in an emotional situation will only make the serve more difficult.

10. Never turn your back

This important tip has been shared by process servers who have been shot, attacked from behind, and pushed into their cars. Even if the person seems calm, turning your back puts you in a vulnerable situation, so make sure you are aware of where they are standing and what they are doing.

11. Tell the person you have no further information

This is a tip we’ve heard from process servers across the country. They suggest that if the person you are serving asks what the papers are regarding, why they are being served, or any other information specific to the papers, simply tell them that you don’t know. One process server suggests saying, "Sir, out of respect for your privacy I don't look at these papers."

12. Master situational awareness

Always make sure you are aware of who and what is around you. There may be an additional person you did not see or some other safety hazard nearby. The more aware you are the more likely you are to spot a potentially dangerous situation and prevent it from turning sour.

13. Get educated

Keep abreast with the latest news and stories surrounding assault, especially as it relates to process servers. Look to other incidents involving process servers and ask your association and colleagues for their input on how to stay safe.

14. Take self-defense courses

Though ideally, you will never need to learn the tactics that you learn, taking self-defense classes can give you adequate preparation should something go wrong on a serve.

15. Team up with your association for a process server safety meeting

A great way to help prevent assault is to team up with your association to put together an assault prevention seminar. This is a great way to talk about the types of threats in your area, share stories and experiences, and get suggestions for what else your local professionals can do to stay safe. An association meeting is also a great time to have an outside speaker or self-defense trainer come share tips.

Even process servers who take every safety precaution are sometimes the victims of assault, but hopefully, these tips will help keep you safe. Check with your local and national association and with fellow process servers for more on what you can do to prevent attacks.

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