For unknown reasons, as a kid growing up in New Jersey I was drawn to Westerns. Perhaps because we didn’t have a lot of horses or cowboys or Indians, but New Jersey did have plenty of guns. Maybe it was simply because we only had six channels and they broadcast a lot of Westerns to fill their programming.

Whatever the reason, I was intrigued by the lawmen more than the outlaws in those movies. High Noon starring Gary Cooper as Marshall Will Kane exemplified my wonder. As the outlaws are returning to town to kill him, the townsfolk encourage him to leave (on his honeymoon no less), but Kane stays to fight as the townsfolk abandon him.

He is against all odds. He is underpaid. He has no benefits. He has little training. No one understands his contribution to the community. No wonder Gary Cooper never smiled.

And as this western concluded on WPIX Channel 11 or WWOR Channel 9 (when they were not broadcasting a Yankees or Mets game), the same question always struck me: Who would want that job? From where did the calling to protect others and the courage to put yourself in harms way come? And unlike Marshall Kane, many security officers, often unarmed, lose their lives trying to protect others.

Training for Complex Visibility

At least technology has improved. A nice fellow from Comcast handed me a new remote about two months ago and explained that we now would get over 500 channels and have access to over 7,000 movies and shows through an On Demand system. So while TV has certainly changed (although my children are sure there is nothing to watch), the upside of being a security officer appears stuck in neutral.

Like everything else in security management, managing and training security officers has become more complex in recent years, especially since 9/11. The Security 500 Research Report identified that visibility was important and on the rise. Stakeholders want to see security officers in public areas, on campuses, in malls, at airports, etc. No one likes long TSA lines, but if we got to the airport and the security area was removed; we would think more than twice about boarding a plane – many might not board at all.

The concept that technology would replace guards through monitored surveillance, and become a best practice has instead been proven a myth. While technology greatly empowers guards to be more productive, the value of a physical presence is significant to both ensure guests that his or her safety is a mutual concern and to deter predators from attempting activity. Yet this expectation is not without cost and added liability.

The role of the guard has also grown to include first greeter, guest services, customer services and triage responsibilities as well as their traditional first responder/first line of defense role. Post 9/11 counter-terrorism and hazardous material expertise were added to the expectations of the role. And yet, we see a uniform and we don’t really know where that officer’s responsibility starts and stops. There is certainly a liability issue around under-active or over-zealous guards. Do “asset protection officers” at a department store:

A. Break up fights?

B. Fight fires?

C. Deliver babies?

D. Disarm bombs?

E. Give directions?

F. Change flat tires?

Do the employees in that store know? Do the customers know? Does the security officer know?

The Options Are There

There are some excellent examples among Security 500 organizations: At N.Y. Presbyterian, the guards come into contact with those entering the hospital first. They have been trained to use special technology to screen people for elevated temperatures and other symptoms of a contagion. Those suspected of carrying contagions are stopped from entering the building and brought to an external triage area. This prevents entry to the building and possible spread of illness.

At the University of Pennsylvania, the strategy includes a visible campus safety force. But the campus police will also be seen giving directions, answering questions and helping students in the fall during move in time.

At Target, everyone within their store’s “community” is a “guest” and they focus on their guests’ “safeness” as well as use leading programs and technologies to prevent shoplifting and theft.

All of my wondering and wandering brings us to this year’s Special Report on Security Officers. Bill Zalud delivers a must read report and provides an in-depth look at the challenges facing many organizations, including options and best practices for improving your security officer corps.

Be sure to read the report beginning on page 68 and please share your issues, experiences and ideas with us.