Security – What’s in a Word? Pt. 2

Physical security is at a crossroads & its future depends largely on what happens now

By By Tom M. Conley, M.A., CPP, CISM, CMAS  |   May 15, 2017
Photo Tom Conley
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[Publisher’s Note: This opinion article originally appeared in the April, 2017, issue of Security Magazine and is reprinted here, in two parts, with permission. To read the first part, ]

If there is a scenario where law enforcement agency receives a call for service about an active shooter at a site, the competency and operational capabilities of the security personnel who are on scene at that site is highly relevant. If law enforcement knows that the site has highly-trained and certified security professionals who are armed and are trusted by the jurisdiction’s law enforcement personnel, then the response will be far different than if the site has traditional contract security guards that are untrained, have no operational capabilities, and are directed to “observe and report” only.

What gets complicated very quickly is when a situation exists wherein law enforcement is responding to an active shooter call at a site knowing there is armed security on-site, but the jurisdiction’s law enforcement personnel either do not trust the security personnel at that site or if they simply do not know if the security personnel are or are not competent. In short, it is in everyone’s best interest for law enforcement personnel to know the competency and operational capabilities of the on-site security personnel before they arrive on scene.

One of the many great benefits of strong public/private partnerships is law enforcement knowing what type of security is on-site before a major call for service comes in to law enforcement from a particular location. Having and maintaining excellent public/private collaboration is a force-multiplier that will increase the probability of a positive outcome when things are at their worst.

The foundation of strong and vibrant public/private partnerships is forged out of mutual trust, respect, and is based on a platform of competency at all levels within the respective organizations. Due to nationwide law enforcement standards and core competencies, private security partners need not be concerned about the professional competency level of their law enforcement partners.

However, since there are no bona fide nationwide standards and core competencies for private security personnel, competency concerns about private security personnel exist within the law enforcement community. These concerns are not without merit and they highlight the need for meaningful, bona fide standards and core competencies for private security personnel at all levels.

The standards and core competencies also need to be codified through legislation so they have the force of law. From the private security side, it is not enough for security managers only to be competent. Rather, all security personnel at all levels must be professionally competent in order for public / private partnerships to be built and sustained. This is because law enforcement cannot wonder about the competency of their private sector partners. If the public sector has any doubt whatsoever about the private sector’s level of competency, a partnership will not work.

Security competency at all levels matters. It is both regretful and amazing that many security managers will earn the Certified Protection Professional (CPP) credential and other professional certifications, yet, those same managers will employ a traditional contract security guard company who furnishes their organization with untrained guards lacking basic skills and capabilities, and who have no professional certifications.

Having a well-trained and professionally certified security manager does not really matter unless the line-level security personnel are also fully competent. Unless everyone at every level within the security organization is trained and credentialed, the security program will be inadequate and represent a danger to all persons who the guards are supposed to be protecting.

Ron Minion, Dr. Norm Bottom and others who had the foresight to start the International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO) understood with great clarity the considerable problem posed with line level security officers and security supervisors not being trained. The IFPO’s Certified Protection Officer (CPO) certification and their Certified in Security Supervisor and Management (CSSM) credential have provided security managers with a great tool to help everyone within a security organization, and at all levels, become certified professionals.

Like it or not, the onus is on the private sector to prove their mettle to the public and to law enforcement because of the history of traditional contract security companies hiring people right off the street, placing them in a uniform and being directly sent to post for duty. This is one reason why the security industry needs to do the hard work and earn their way into becoming a profession. The simple truth is there needs to be a new way of doing business with respect to how security personnel are classified and defined.

The organizations that purchase security services and the array of public safety sector agencies all need a definitive and quantitative way to know which physical security personnel are highly-trained professionals and which ones are not. In fact, anything less than this “truth in advertising” is truly unconscionable.

A good start would be for traditional contract security guard providers to start telling the truth about the operational capabilities (or the lack of) their guards possess and stop calling their guards security. As a part of the new way of doing business with respect to how security personnel are classified, the name “security guard” should be deleted and be replaced with a term that does not confuse a security guard with a professional security officer. Again, there are other names and terms that can be used to substitute for security guard, such as, concierge, greeter, valet, ambassador, reception, janitor, facility specialist, watchman and many more types of services. This change is necessary because it is both intellectually dishonest and dangerous for any security services company to assert to anyone that their security personnel possess training and capabilities that they, in fact, do not possess.

If those who represent traditional guard companies would simply tell prospective clients the truth, then it is the prospective client who can decide the type of protective services they want and, more importantly, what type and level of services they need for proper risk mitigation. If the prospective client chooses to purchase greeter and valet services, then at least that client understands and knows that their organization is not purchasing a security officer.

By contrast, if the prospective client wants a professional security program wherein the security officers they will be getting have been carefully selected, highly trained, and are professionally-certified, then the prospective client can and should fully expect security officers to operate at a professional and competent level. Law enforcement personnel in all jurisdictions should also know exactly who in their community competently performs a security function and who does not.

It is the view of this author that the security industry can never transition to becoming a true profession unless the issue of bona fide standards and core competencies for private security personnel is definitively addressed and permanently resolved through both professional standards as well as legislative action that codifies those standards. Unless the right standards become law, the competency vacuum will continue to leave the door open for traditional guard companies to keep on telling prospective clients that the guards the client will be getting are all carefully selected and highly trained professionals when that is simply not factual. The door needs to be opened wide to the proverbial “crazy aunt in the closet” so there can be an open and honest dialogue about the best way to move the security industry forward so the security industry at all levels can become the security profession and competency concerns about private security personnel with the public and within the law enforcement community are no more.

What’s in a word? When it comes to security, the large security bucket needs to be emptied so the various parts can be properly categorized. The lack of a common classification method to describe security is a clear and serious barrier to public confidence as well as to improving public law enforcement and private security relations, thus fostering effective public-private partnerships.

Perhaps the security industry should define real, meaningful and adequate minimum training and certification standards so the word “security officer” can conjure up a fairly common mental image of someone who is carefully selected, professionally trained, operationally competent and conducts themselves on a solid moral platform of honesty and integrity. The word “security guard” can still conger up a common mental image of someone who is untrained, operationally incompetent and who cannot be relied upon. However, at least those who purchase security services and the law enforcement agencies who have to work with private security personnel would know exactly what the capabilities are (and are not) from a particular security services provider.

The public as well as law enforcement in the community in which security personnel work have the right to know what the operational competency level of a particular security program and personnel is and is not. The collective impression of private security by the public as well as by the law enforcement community is less than desirable, to be generous. The decades of the public and law enforcement dealing with one traditional guard failure after another is squarely to blame for the low esteem in which security is held by most people.

Law enforcement officers are trained professionals who can be depended upon to protect those who are in need or in trouble. The same needs to be universally true of those who wear the private security uniform. Traditional guard services provide a negative value to organizations, are largely untrusted by the public, and are nearly always problematic to law enforcement. The traditional guard model truly needs to go the way of the dinosaurs and organizations that contract for security services need to do so based on value and capabilities versus low price.

A risk-management study needs to be completed first and foremost. The result of that study will determine what actual security controls need to be placed at an organization to attain a level of adequate security. This will be completed using electronic security and other hardware security solutions, and likely professional security officers who have been carefully selected, highly trained, are professionally-certified, and who can operate at a professional and competent manner.

This change will most certainly serve to drive the “security industry-to-security profession” transformation forward and will do so in a way that adds real value to organizations as well as building public safety trust that will create strong and meaningful public/private partnerships. At the same time, the non-security duties that traditional security guards currently perform can still be done. They should just be called something different and those who perform these non-security functions should not wear police-like uniforms or use the moniker that states or even infers they are bone fide security. Unless and until the time when this transition occurs in the area of physical security, the public and law enforcement will continue to have an overwhelmingly low opinion of security and widespread public/private partnerships will never be able to truly flourish.

The time for this change is long past due.