|Note from the Security editorial staff: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own, and are not necessarily representative of Securitymagazine. What do you think about implementing security officer standards? Feel free to comment below and join the conversation.|
Over the years the non-sworn, corporate public safety industry has failed to achieve any long-lasting measures of professionalism. There are many possible reasons for this failure, but chief among them is the failure to adopt reliable public safety officer core competency standards. Unfortunately, this lack of accountability has naturally led to our current “no standard-standard.” Consequently, public safety officer effectiveness, productivity and relevance has stalled (or regressed) creating a seemingly insurmountable barrier for professionalization. Subsequently, the public’s perceptions of the “typical” security guard hasn’t changed much over time. In the past it was the bumbling “old-timer” bank security guard who sat on a stool just inside the bank entrance and tried to stay awake as robbers slipped in and quietly removed his firearm. Today’s “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” caricature is no better. In fact, the updated stereotype reinforces the notion that obesity is not a disqualifier for a security officer. The plain truth is that the security industry has not kept pace with other professionalized industries. Paradoxically, the same organizations that employ public safety personnel have long ago established standards for their non-security personnel, which has led to highly professionalized vocations.
In lieu of adopting reliable competency standards, organizations have tried to “upgrade” their officers’ capabilities by improving wages, benefits and expanding their responsibilities (to name just a few “incentives”). Unfortunately, these “incentives” have resulted in the polar opposite of what standards accomplish – they’ve created a nationwide workforce that is paid an above average wage but is still incapable of delivering real organizational value. In fact, a lack of standards has led to perhaps the number one organizational failure of our time: an overrepresentation of physically unfit and obese officers. In fact, the Wall Street Journal conducted an analysis of data from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine and found that security personnel were among the first-responder professions that had a higher rate of obesity (40 percent) than adults in the general population (30 percent)! The stark truth is that a lack of standards has led to the creation of a universal job category that no one is disqualified from.
In order to assure organizational and community stakeholders that public safety officers are actually capable of providing valuable protective services, organizations need to adopt non-negotiable public safety officer core competency standards. This is especially true in light of newly enacted regulatory and statutory demands, increased attention on mitigating workplace violence and the public’s concern for officer accountability. Core competency standards play an invaluable role in holding public safety officers accountable and assuring that only “qualified” candidates are hired, while only “qualified” officers remain employed.
Organizations derive many tangible and intangible benefits from adopting core competency standards for their public safety personnel, such as:
- Improving personal, organizational and community safety
- Mitigating negligent hiring, failure to train and negligent retention civil and criminal liabilities
- Minimizing potential employment discriminatory practices liabilities
- Empowering the training environment and minimize training liabilities
- Increasing employee effectiveness and productivity
- Improving personnel and organizational morale
- Decreasing workers compensation claims
- Reducing the costs associated with employee illness or injury by avoiding the need to use additional labor and/or reductions in overtime costs needed to temporarily or permanently replace missing personnel
The very nature of providing public safety services creates unique organizational accountability challenges. Unlike other job categories where employees are continually involved in specific tasks that uniquely define their contribution to the organization, an officer’s responsibilities are multifaceted and involve numerous activities that are hard to measure.
The challenge of measuring a public safety officer’s effectiveness is similar to determining the value of a fire extinguisher. Every organization has a number of fire extinguishers strategically positioned throughout their campus in highly visible public areas that are readily available to the public (mandated by law) for use when/if there’s a fire. These visually recognizable and available fire extinguishers are rarely used, but they provide peace of mind to the public, knowing that in the unlikely event that there’s a fire they’ll be able to use them to stop the fire (threat). However, until a fire extinguisher is actually “tested,” either in a controlled non-emergency environment (also mandated by law) or during an actual fire, it’s impossible to know if it’s actually capable of putting out a fire. The truth is it’s impossible to tell the difference between a fully charged fire extinguisher and an empty one; from one that could save lives and one that can’t – until it’s tested. So how does an organization, or the unsuspecting public, know which public safety officers are capable of protecting them and which are incapable, without reliable standards? (Although this analogy generally holds true, unlike a fire extinguisher, with humans there are visual indicators, such as being obese, that provide insight into their potential effectiveness.)
The reality is that public safety officers, like police officers and firefighters, are paid primarily for what they’re “capable of doing,” not necessarily for what they “actually do.” Since the vast majority of a public safety officer’s job duties typically involve “preventive” tasks, such as “being seen and seeing,” which are primarily accomplished by sitting, (e.g., driving a patrol vehicle or watching video monitors) standing a post, or walking a foot patrol, and not directly engaged in interpersonal field conflict, it’s difficult to know how an officer will respond when their most valued capabilities are required.
As a “condition of employment” public safety officers must be required to meet an organization’s established core competencies standards. The organization’s initial goal is to keep unqualified individuals from becoming employed. However, once employed, and as a “condition of continued employment,” officers must be required to maintain the set of core competencies standards by participating in the department’s ongoing and continuous training program that trains, retrains and assesses an officer’s competencies. Officers that fail to meet the required core competency standards should be subject to corrective action and discipline. Corrective action should include a process for identifying potentially deficient officers for rehabilitation, for transfer out of the safety/security department or for terminating their employment.
Too many organizations continue to put their head in the sand and consciously allow unqualified officers to remain employed and assigned to field duties which creates unnecessary liability.
All public safety officers, regardless of any other core competency requirements, must meet a physical fitness standard. At this stage of social and organizational development, responsible organizations should have already established a commitment to employee wellness. Requiring public safety officers to be physically fit meets this minimum organizational mandate.
Physical Fitness: A Sure Foundation
One of the first considerations for adopting non-negotiable public safety officer core competencies is determining the necessary minimum level of physical fitness. All other core competencies, both theoretical and applied, depend on physical fitness. Some tasks like controlling an assaultive subject may require higher levels of fitness, while others tasks like driving a patrol vehicle may require lower levels to successfully complete. However, since field conflict is inevitable, unpredictable and unavoidable, there’s no telling when higher levels of physical fitness will suddenly be required to successfully complete a task or to save a life.
One of the greatest challenges for all public safety officers is transitioning from generally stress-free activities to highly physically and emotionally stressful conditions (known as stress arousal) when an officer’s capabilities need to be activated and deployed with little or no advanced warning. Stress arousal can rob an officer of cognitive control (See Dr. Jonathan W. Page and his “Cognitive Command” theory) which is necessary for making “snap” field conflict resolution decisions, such as a transitioning (too quickly or too slowly) from communication tactics to “hands-on” force. Physical fitness is an antidote to stress arousal and mitigates its negative impact an officer’s decision making ability.
Training: A Double Bind
Training and assessing officer capabilities is both a practical and ethical necessity. Not requiring a physical fitness standard creates a “double bind” for organizations. Creating realistic levels of stress arousal is an important component of effective officer training. One of the most effective techniques for creating stress arousal is to add a physical activity to a training task. Unfortunately, if the organization doesn’t require its officers to maintain a minimum level of physical fitness, it makes it difficult to create a useful training environment. In fact, requiring physically unfit personnel to engage in dynamic physical activities may create unnecessary officer injuries. On the other hand, there’s very limited value in “training” that has very little resemblance to “reality.” It’s impossible to train unfit officers in tactical skills such as baton training or weaponless self-defense. (Although some organizations have “solved” this training dilemma by substituting [real] training with online training. At least no one gets hurt!)
Hiring or allowing unfit or obese public safety officers to remain employed is a vivid example of failed leadership. In truth, it’s not as some suggest – a failure of the individual officer’s character – rather it’s a failure of organizational leadership. Public safety officers, like any other employees, don’t normally walk into their supervisor’s office and voluntarily quit their jobs, even when they know they can’t successfully perform them. In fact, this is true even when a lack of physical fitness may interfere with their ability to protect their own lives! However, it’s not fair to blame the individual unfit/obese officers. The reality is that if an employer doesn’t demonstrate concern for the physical wellbeing of their employees, why should the employees? Continued “inaction” on the part of organization, even in the most egregious cases, clearly demonstrates that an organization doesn’t care about the health and well-being of its public safety officers. In fact, many organizations actively resist attempts to discipline or remove unfit or obese officers from service.
The pursuit of excellence requires that organizations establish reliable public safety officer core competency standards. It’s time for organizations, senior non-security stakeholders, security leaders and the various professional security groups to demonstrate true leadership and experience what all other professionalized vocations already know. The day that not everyone qualifies to “serve and protect” our communities is the moment that it begins. Carpe Diem!