Last week I was contacted by a TV station in Arizona that was doing an investigative piece on the private security industry. They were asking my help to understand the difference between the types of private security services offered to companies. While preparing for my TV interview, it gave me some time to think about the public's perception of the security officer they see at everyday locations. Locations such as malls, office plazas or grocery stores, are some of the more prominent locations where we see security daily. It made me ask, how does the public view security officers and what are their expectations?
To start, I believe we all evaluate security officers first by appearance. How many times have you walked past a uniformed security officer on duty and said, "Wow, there is no way he or she could protect me!" based solely on their appearance and demeanor. There are times however, that we see a uniformed security officer and think that they must be a former police officer or military member, because they just have "that look." That positive look consists of a variety of personal traits such as self confidence, physical fitness and personal appearance. But, as a visiting member of the public to a location protected by uniformed security, are your expectations of safety and security really aligned with the contracted services being providing? Let's take a look at that.
In the private security industry, there are generally two type of services offered that utilize uniformed security officers.
B) enforcement and intervention
Most people are very surprised to find out that the majority of private security services offered in the United States consist of nothing more than report and observe. That means that if a security officer sees a crime being committed, they either make a radio or phone call and notify the police, or they notify their company dispatcher that a crime is in progress. The security officer is then instructed (per their standard operating procedures) to move to a position of personal safety and be the best witness they can be for responding police, in regard to the incident that is in progress.
The other type of security are those officers who are employed in an enforcement capacity (usually armed security officers). These security officers are instructed that if they see a crime in progress to immediately notify 911 and then to intervene and protect public safety until the arrival of police.
Believe it or not, the main differences in these two services is the cost to the client, and the level of training received by the security officers. The client is the one who has contracted the security services for their property.
Clients do have a choice, but understand that very often, private security is utilized at a location for purpose of insurance liability. Various times throughout my career when I have worked for private security companies, I have been told very specifically by a client that I'm there to look out for the interests of their insurance. Rarely have I been told that I am there to intervene on behalf of public safety.
Something you must understand here is that each state in the US regulates their respective private security industry. Along with that regulation, comes the mandate for state approved training of each licensed security officer. Usually that training is defined as a certain number of training hours for both unarmed and armed security officers.
So it is incorrect for the general public to automatically assume that if they become the victim of a crime in the presence of a private security officer, that the security officer will place themselves in personal jeopardy to assist them. More often than not, that security officer will call 911 for you and be a good witness for the responding police.
If you are ever in doubt as to the level of service that the security officer at your office, residential complex, etc. is allowed to perform, do not hesitate to contact the security company or the property owners representative (management company, owners group, etc.) and ask very specifically if the security officer on duty is only there to report and observe a crime in progress or are they instructed to intervene in the interest of public safety and come to the immediate aid of a victim in need.