What do you think of when you think about a security officer? Is your perception tainted by Hollywood which generally paints security officers as comedic caricatures with delusions of grandeur? Do you think of security officers as “wannabe cops” who have no career path? If your answer is affirmative, I ask you to push aside these dated and inaccurate perceptions about security officers and learn what is truly involved in this critically important profession today. Security officers act as community ambassadors where they assume customer service roles. They are first responders in emergencies, act as a liaison with local law enforcement, lead safety efforts, escort patients in hospitals, raise personal security awareness with students and check in on residents in gated communities.

What would your perception of security officers be like if they saved the life of your child? Saving the lives of children or coming to the aid of a choking victim are “regular” heroic acts performed by security officers all the time. Security officers act as first responders who make the difference between life and death, as understood by the parents of the child saved when security officer Myisha Pullum performed CPR after a near-drowning incident, or the parents of the 3-year-old boy saved by off-duty security officer Mike Garrigues, when he used CPR after finding him face-down in a puddle of water on a beach.

Security officers are vigilant, responsive and dedicated to maintaining safe and secure environments. Whether they are holding doors and offering assistance, or responding to medical emergencies, reporting suspicious behavior, controlling access or serving as a liaison to local law enforcement, these are the men and women who are helping ensure our homes, communities and workplaces are secure. These hard-working men and women, who act as our first line of defense during these challenging times, deserve our respect and gratitude.

Physical security requirements continually evolve and require security officers who can meet the seemingly incessant bombardment of unexpected challenges. The physical security sector demands that the security officers’ and managers’ qualifications merit the position. Today’s security officer has a balance of formal education and industry-specific certifications in order to be competitive and effective in their position. Learning continues throughout the career of a security officer. Security officers’ course work ranges from rigorous advanced Master Security Officer Courses, e-learning, scenario-based learning, classroom instruction and on-the-job training.

Training includes fire safety, terrorism awareness, emergency planning and evacuation procedures. Security officers are also trained on the use of security technology that allows them to operate more efficiently.

In addition, security officers participate in industry-specific training geared to the market they serve whether it is a petrochemical or government facility, shopping mall, hospital, commercial building, residential complex, industrial facility or college. Security officers, who are often assigned in the vicinity of sensitive or critical locations, are the eyes and ears of the community and are trained to report suspicious activity.

Police officers often have to spend valuable time not on crime prevention and investigation but on public nuisance and lifestyle assistance issues such responding to noise complaints, administering first aid, rescuing domestic animals, and addressing public drunkenness. When private security works in partnership with law enforcement to respond to these issues, police officers have more time to focus on solving crimes and enforcing the laws of society.

Private security can supplement and support state, county and municipal police agencies by relieving them of some of their service calls. As budget reductions result in reduced police officer forces, more private and public enterprises are turning to contracted private security officers to supplement state, county and municipal police agencies.

The physical security sector fosters career growth for men and women who take advantage of the continual training and opportunities that the industry presents. I speak from experience as I began my career 35 years ago as a security officer working event security, and I am currently a senior executive in the physical security sector. Security officers are on the front-lines and, as such, are subject to uncertainty and danger. I learned early in my career that some of us pay the ultimate price for serving and securing the public. My passion for the business was inspired by my father, Frank Rabena, who was a Director of Security at SpectaGuard; a man dedicated to always helping others who was my larger than life role model. 

Before workplace violence was in our day-to-day vernacular, my father lost his life to a workplace violence incident. In 1992, my father and his colleague, who were working inside a factory, were gunned down and killed by an employee who was disgruntled over a job transfer. I chose to honor my father’s legacy by continuing in his footsteps to serve and secure my community and mentor the next generation of security leaders. 

Workplace violence prevention is just one of many challenges that organizations face, and why demand for experienced security officers is on the rise. The U.S. market for security guard and patrol services will increase 5.2 percent annually to $24.5 billion in 2016, reports The Freedonia Group. “Through 2016, the number of guards employed by private security firms is projected to rise 2.8 percent annually to 655,000.”

Despite Hollywood depicting an unflattering and condescending portrait of security officers in films like “Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Observe & Report” and “Night at the Museum,” today’s contract security officer possesses superior customer service skills, engages in continual training and is prepared for their daily duties and unexpected challenges. Gratitude is due to the leading private security contractors and national security organizations including ASIS International, National Association of Security Companies (NASCO) and state and federal agencies that are working together to create legislation and best practices for the industry which honor the importance and value of the security officer. Let’s join them by showing appreciation to security officers by recognizing that they are committed to our safety and deserve our respect and admiration.