How Small Enterprises’ Security Officer Investments Pay Off
Small and mid-sized enterprises are making strides and saving money through contact security officer programs.
Parents and students touring potential college campuses typically have a list of questions for their tour guide: What types of student accommodations are available? Does this school offer my preferred major? But one question is quickly climbing the ranks: What security measures do you have? And smaller universities and college campuses are facing the same questions, albeit with a smaller budget to comply. It’s in these cases that security officers prove their worth.
How Security Drives Tuition
Benedictine University is a 7,000-student campus in Lisle, Ill., some 20 miles west of Chicago. Established in 1887, it covers 108 acres, with 21 buildings, a sports and athletics complex that seats 5,000, 14 sworn police officers and seven security officers.
“We’re a primarily tuitions-driven university,” says Michael Salatino, Chief of Police at Benedictine University. And there’s an entirely different perception of security on campus than years ago, he says. “There has been a nationwide embrace of emergency management and active shooter protocols and using the best technology that you can. This is a big deal for perspective students and parents, who come in asking us security questions.
“They want to know ‘I’m leaving my child here, how will I know they’re going to be safe and secure?’ They’re asking us ‘do you have mass communications, do you have a PA system, can you send a text message or cell phone call for active events on campus, tell me about security in the dorms.’ These are all questions from parents that might not have heard 10 or 15 years ago.
“We can talk to them about our security technology and policing efforts, and it increases their level of confidence in us. They can have the same level of confidence in our campus police as they have in the police patrolling their neighborhood. We can tell them about our security officers and all of the advanced technology they manage. This is exactly what perspectives are looking for now.
“People are more keen and more sensitive and more aware and more self-educated to safety and security. People are more security-conscious, walking through a grocery store parking lot or coming out of the theater, and that extends to college campuses as well,” Salatino adds.
Redefining the Role of a Security Officer
At Benedictine, the seven security officers, or the “security division,” serve as a backup force when needed, but mostly they work behind the scenes 24/7, allowing the sworn officers to complete their policing duties – patrolling the campus (on foot, bicycle and by golf cart or patrol car), managing and enforcing traffic and responding to daily calls.
The security officers monitor the roughly 100 security cameras on the property; ticket cars; unlock doors; issue ID badges; manage the mass communication system and run the emergency dispatch center. They also help in event attendee screening and crowd control, as well as security awareness and education training.
In fact, Benedictine University was ranked the safest four-year institution per capita in the state of Illinois for 2012, and the school recently received Illinois law enforcement accreditation – the first private law enforcement agency in the state to be awarded that status, Salatino says. “A good portion of that review was emergency management, and a lot of that falls on the security staff.”
That accreditation helps with recruitment and retention, he adds, as students (and their parents) feel safer on campus.
Benedictine University has been working with a private security staff for the past 12 years, but after a sworn police department was established in 2006, there was a debate over whether or not to keep private security officers. However, Salatino soon discovered that the police department needed the insight that the security division had accumulated, so a core group of private officers was retained.
Salatino gets the opportunity to interview and select his own private officers, and he can tailor his choices to the applicants’ specific attributes or skill set.
“If a potential officer is a computer whiz, and we need someone to work with our surveillance system and our network, then that person might be a better fit,” says Salatino. The officers also wear Benedictine uniforms, which helps to solidify the perception of a united security force, he says.
If he had chosen to replace those officers with police, it would have cost the school another $89,000 in salary per year, Salatino says.
“That doesn’t sound like a lot, but you have to think about how you’re deploying your resources,” he says. “Does it make sense to use a sworn officer for non-emergency duties? This was an easy rationale for our organization.”
In Idaho, however, university personnel have no authority to have their own sworn police department, so officials at the University of Idaho aimed for a “safety ambassador” program, using security officers to bridge the gap between police and students.
The 12,000-student school in Moscow, Idaho, is served by 14 security officers, including eight full-time officers.
“I don’t think this is too unique anymore,” says Matt Dorschel, Executive Director, Public Safety & Security at the University of Idaho. “It’s becoming quite prevalent for mid-sized institutions – We lack the overhead or the experience to properly train and equip our officers. So we can go out to a firm that has a national reputation for providing these services and can provide a quality security program that we might not be able to complete for that amount of resources.”
These officers are more hands-on, face-to-face with the students, and they’re chosen and trained to be visible and personable presences on the campus. Even during move-in weeks at dormitories or summer welcome periods, the officers are present to ensure that unattended luggage is still being watched, or even to point freshmen toward the right building to get their student IDs.
“Also, they’re often a buffer between the students and law enforcement,” says Dorschel. For example, if a security officer walked by a fraternity to see a student on the front lawn with an open container of alcohol, the officer would warn the student to take it inside, instead of issuing a citation. This builds trust and a positive relationship with security, Dorschel says.
“If there is an emergency incident in regards to crime or fire, that’s something we hand over to our Moscow police department,” Dorschel adds. “But in most cases, one of our security officers is going to be on the scene at about the same time, if not before, a first responder arrives. In many times, they are a conduit between me and others on campus to provide an awareness of the situation. I mostly consider them in that role of ambassadors.”
Adding Value, Adding Risk?
Some enterprises, looking to gain extra value from their security officer investment, add responsibilities to the security officer’s list of tasks. This, however, could mean more risk, not just more value.
If a security officer is asked to shovel snow from a walkway, he or she might not be insured for any possible injuries that occur from a slip-and-fall. According to Tory Brownyard, president of the Brownyard Group, an insurance company for security officer firms, “It’s not uncommon for a security officer to take on extra duties, unknown to the owners of the guard firm. That could be shoveling snow or driving officials to the train station, but he might not be covered for these duties. The security officer might feel he’s doing something good, but he might be picking up additional liability,” he says.
Brownyard recommends that security officers run extra duties by their employers, who might need to review their insurance policy or check with their insurance company to verify they have coverage for these added duties.
If the officer is driving the client around, does the enterprise need to invest in auto coverage or livery insurance? Was maintenance or janitorial work excluded in the coverage? If there’s a slip and fall, can the victim come back after the enterprise for compensation?
According to Brownyard, these are all questions to consider during the contract-drafting period. Any additional work added to the job description should be written out and added though a post-order or addendum to the contract in detail.
Building a Rapport
“We recognized the need to have the ability to engage with the campus community,” says Dorschel. As of October 2010, the security department’s share of responsibility for campus safety was enhanced through new partnerships:
- Residence Halls: Security staff built relationships with residence hall staff and advisors, and they patrol the halls frequently.
- Dean of Students:Security holds a weekly meeting with the dean to discuss any problems and possible solutions.
- Moscow, Idaho Police Department: Moscow PD works closely with the campus security division, serving as a strong resource for campus security. Security officers voluntarily gave up time to attend the law enforcement’s citizen’s academy, and there are myriad training opportunities that they pursue, especially crisis-themed exercises.
The campus security department also participates in new student orientation and offers event security planning and consulting for university organizations. Plus, on the 300+ acre campus, the security officers operate an escort or safe-walk service to vehicles or residence halls – a service which is currently growing.
At Benedictine, security training and education extends beyond the college campus as well, helping students build a self-awareness that they can use anywhere. The security department offers classes for newly-21 students on how to stay safe in the bar scene, and officers (both sworn and private) help in summer camps for kids, teaching youngsters the basics of self-defense and security awareness.
Building Security Culture in a Small (but Growing) Business
Rackspace was founded in 1998 as an ISP and is now the leading Hybrid Cloud provider in the world, employing more than 5,000 “Rackers” in 11 offices worldwide. They have made and continue to make industry-leading investments in the security of both their global offices and data centers.
But even as a start-up, customers demanded a high level of security at their DCs. So in 2005 the company brought in private security officers to lead these mission critical initiatives.
“It was a need, and we had to fulfill it,” says Mark Terry, Senior Manager of Security Operations at Rackspace.
Regarding early investments Terry and his team spearheaded, “You want to set the standard – show employees and customers that you take security seriously. Plus, build a safe environment keeps employees happy and focusing.”
One of Terry’s biggest and most gratifying accomplishments was leading the security efforts around Rackspace’s purchase of an abandoned mall that was to be converted into the fast growing company’s headquarters. What was once space used by the local police force to conduct urban warfare tactics is now a safe and unique workspace, complete with indoor slides, food stations and a tree farm outside.
Terry’s officers have a wide range of duties ranging from total interior and exterior building control to physically patrolling the jogging path on the property and, when needed, his team will contact a Racker by the serial number on the Rackspace windshield sticker of their car if they notice a flat tire or a leaking radiator.
“It’s a customer service position,” says Terry. “We don’t want to be seen as ‘the heavies.’ We want a friendly security team that takes pressure off of our employees.
“From the start, it’s key for security to be a part of the culture, not a hindrance to the culture,” he adds, before heading down the slide.