Security Guard Procedures and Preparation: What is your role?
You’re armed with equipment you hope you don’t have to use. Or — more likely — you’re not armed at all. Many security officers, in fact, work with neither firearms nor restraints nor nonlethal weapons. Employers often note among duties maintaining a visible presence; the mere presence of a person in uniform can be a strong deterrent. However, not all security officers do an equal job of creating an atmosphere of lawfulness and order. Part of the job is simply to look the part. Security agencies are typically very particular about appearance. Commanding respect doesn’t mean making a show of force. Security officers are expected to look alert but not threatening.
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When order is breached, procedures will vary, depending in part on the answer to these questions: What is the setting? Did someone show up for the purpose of committing a crime or are they experiencing a high level of stress? Is there an immediate threat to safety? What is your own training and authority?
Often the next step is communication. You may use specific de-escalation techniques you learned as part of your security guard training. Many situations will require you to bring in reinforcements, which may be superiors or law enforcement officers. Your equipment will include communication equipment, for example, a two-way radio.
Security Guard Powers… and Limits
Part of preparation is knowing the limitations of one’s own authority. As the Transportation Security Administration reminds prospective Transportation Security Officers: They are not police officers. Their job is not to make arrests (http://www.realisticjobpreview.net/tsa_final.htm).
Some jurisdictions recognize different levels of licensing or certification. Security officers at the highest level have limited powers of arrest.
It is common practice for security officers who work at stores to detain shoplifters, but they must make sure that they are acting within the law of their own jurisdiction and that they have been properly trained. Failure to follow protocol can expose a person to lawsuit. Approaching in a professional manner with a backup (or second person) is typically enough to produce compliance (http://www.crimedoctor.com/shoplifting2.htm).
There are of course situations where a security officer has to use force to stop a potentially dangerous situation. There are many types of force, some of which have little likelihood of causing permanent or serious harm. Campus Safety Magazine cited several occasions where a potentially serious situation on a college campus was controlled using less lethal weapons (http://www.campussafetymagazine.com/article/Real-World-Alternatives-to-Deadly-Force#).
‘Alternatives to deadly force’ is a typical course requirement for armed security guards.
The Importance of Training
Protocols vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, sector to sector, and even workplace to workplace, but to a large degree they come from on high. A recent course hosted by Jim Sawyer, Security Services Director at Seattle Children’s Hospital, focused partly on the controversy surrounding whether hospital security guards should be armed and partly on best practices for eliminating violence. Sawyer, who is also a crisis intervention instructor, advocates that hospitals — and other workplaces where tension can erupt into violence — move from a ‘zero tolerance’ to a ‘zero incidents’ approach (http://www.securitymagazine.com/articles/85977-webinar-review-zero-incidents-vs-zero-tolerance). This translates to prevention programs involving not just the security staff but other staff members.
Security guards receive training in using the devices they will have on their person and also on following the laws they are bound to. Many jurisdictions mandate specific courses. Many hiring agencies provide training well beyond the minimum. A security guard who feels he or she has not received adequate training can find organizations to reach out to. Some security officers pursue training in nonviolent communication. Some pursue certification through organizations such as the International Foundation for Protection Officers (http://www.ifpo.org/training/cpo/).