With the advent of the pandemic and societal unrest, today’s government agencies are faced with evolving threats like never before. The pandemic, which has created higher unemployment rates and civil unrest across the nation, has created the ‘perfect storm’ for increased crime. Furthermore, in a recent article, the Wall Street Journal reported that in a survey of municipal budget officers, the average municipality tax revenue has declined 11% year over year, and most expect 2021 revenues will come in 13% below 2020 levels. How can today’s agencies ensure the protection of their employees and their property in times of heightened security needs in a financially feasible way?

Compounding the problem, over the past decade, our country’s police departments have been under immense pressure to keep crime rates low despite whittled-down budgets and a reduction in staffing. Today, in 2020, with the mass protests and civil unrest that followed George Floyd’s death and a national movement to “defund the police,” the struggle to recruit police is harder than ever. The Police Executive Research Forum reports that 63% of police departments nationwide have seen a decrease in applications. This year alone, the NYPD reported a dramatic increase in retirements. From March 1 through July 22, 813 NYPD officers retired, and another 1,172 cops filed paperwork to follow them. These numbers such as these cannot easily be replaced.


Public-private partnership

Now more than ever, government policy makers need to focus resources; allowing law enforcement to focus on the core duties and responsibilities of law enforcement officers. And industries like ours, need to be creative in developing solutions to support them in this effort.

The physical security industry supports law enforcement and when private security works in partnership with law enforcement, police officers have more time to focus on preventing and solving crimes. To ensure that the physical security sector supports our nation’s police departments, public-private partnerships are essential. There are many respected organizations dedicated to fostering dialogue between public and private entities. In the forefront are ASIS International’s Law Enforcement Liaison Council and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Private Sector Liaison Committee. These groups work to facilitate a collaborative environment for members to engage in the development, research, and implementation of programs and activities which foster cooperation and partnership between public law enforcement and private security professionals.

In a recent National League of Cities survey of 485 cities, 90% said they expected a harder time meeting the needs of their communities. Christiana McFarland, Director of Research of the National League of Cities said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, “Many cities skimmed from the top through moves such as hiring freezes and furloughs” since personnel costs account for the largest share of municipal budgets. Private security can supplement and support state, county and municipal police agencies by relieving them of some of their service calls.

The private security industry must increase its capacity and capabilities through targeted recruitment and screening, enhanced training and skills development, and building career paths. As public budget reductions lead to reduced police forces, more private and public enterprises are turning to contracted private security officers to supplement state, county and municipal police agencies.


Supporting communities

Private industry and governmental organizations all support peaceful protesting.  However, if protesting is usurped by acts of lawlessness including rioting, looting and violence, what can businesses and government agencies do to ensure the safety of their employees, visitors and property? The best way for organizations to manage risks is to identify and evaluate all possible scenarios and create a contingency plan detailing how to deal with the emergency if it occurs. This plan should detail strategies for dealing with emergencies specific to its location and type of business as well as general risks that apply across all industries. 

Before developing the plan, it’s important to decide who is responsible for the maintenance and practice of the emergency plan. Additionally, larger organizations may consider creating plans for individual departments or locations overseen by a team of personnel, while smaller or more streamlined organizations may only require one plan. Either way, collaboration and communication are essential to ensuring a coordinated response to an emergency. 

During these times of uncertainty, it is important to have a security program that meets an organization's needs. It can be challenging to continuously control and manage the right configuration of security personnel, technology, systems and deployment to maintain robust protection, quality service and cost effectiveness.  Choosing the best approach boils down to the ability of the security program to meet the specific objectives of the business and trust that the methods of meeting these objectives will follow through on deliverables and ROI.


Big, government buildings attract trouble

City, county and federal governmental buildings are lightning rods for trouble.  Government buildings can be faced with threats of unlawful entry, terrorism, and acts of workplace violence. Whether it’s a high-profile trial or full-scale protests, those big, federal/state buildings that house governmental agencies require special security attention. Building security affects daily operations and the health and safety of employees and the public. There is a wide-range of security measures employed at public buildings including exterior barriers, x-ray and metal detectors, closed-circuit television, and security personnel.

A comprehensive crime prevention assessment of the governmental building is the first step toward an effective security program. Often these assessments are performed by the local or state law enforcement agency. However, rarely are local law enforcement agencies up to speed on the most current capabilities of the private sector, nor are they familiar with the manner in which to procure those services. Also, local agencies are often unaware of best practices or lessons learned from other jurisdictions since there are few forums where local agencies can participate or share this type of information.  These issues are always addressed in government facilities – just not always with the most up-to-date approach.


Training reinvented

In light of these challenging times, physical security companies are reviewing and updating their training protocol with the goal of keeping people safe while doing everything the right way. For example, remedial training on the proper role and authority of the security officer, modules on civil rights, peaceful assembly, and de-escalation techniques. Also, in conjunction with the clients, they are updating post orders to reflect the new realities that police response times are increasing and large gatherings organized through social media can present at any time. Physical security companies are tasked with keeping client facilities and their occupants safe and secure; they are not monitoring or overseeing protests. By deploying situational awareness tools, security companies help clients keep a pulse on civil unrest and protests in proximity to their facilities along with hazards such as fires, traffic closures and the like.  Depending on circumstances, the appropriate mitigation tactic is used whether it is locking down a building, boosting exterior or interior patrol, or redirecting egress from a building in order to avoid hazards.

By way of example, in 2017 and 2018, Philadelphia endured an outbreak of flash mobs which vandalized store fronts, harassed pedestrians and in some instances, individuals committed robberies and assaults. In one such instance, just at the beginning of the evening rush hour as thousands of workers were leaving their buildings, the mob began to break windows at client’s facility, and the physical security team immediately locked down the building elevators and front doors, advised the clients to shelter in place and ensured that the mob didn’t move into the building. By using situational awareness tools and company communication channels, these well trained security teams were able to coordinate with security teams at other locations, thereby mitigating the threat this mob presented. Buildings were locked down, employees were redirected to alternative egress routes away from the moving flash mob, and they were able to communicate accurate information to local law enforcement and emergency responders. These well trained security professionals were able to use all the tools at their disposal to fulfill their mission to protect the employees and property of their clients.


Off-duty police

In order to assist in addressing the issues of societal unrest, in addition to traditional security personnel, some companies are enlisting the services of security companies that can provide off-duty police officers (ODOs) to safeguard their businesses, employees and visitors. In fact, today security companies are receiving unprecedented requests for off-duty police officers (ODOs)

Whether a police officer is on or off duty, they have the authority of their position and can make an arrest if necessary. They can also call in crimes to get support from other officers. ODOs detect crimes in real-world situations, interact with the public, and know how to handle themselves in a high-pressure environment. We are seeing this trend across all industries. The keys to success are the hiring of high-quality security professionals and the development of solid relationships between all public and private groups—whether or not formal agreements exist. Private contracted security officers dedicated to specific posts or areas make a significant impact on safety, security and caring for the people and businesses of our communities.