By Paul Hughes · October 1, 2014
Recently, a discussion on LinkedIn asked the following question: “How do we reduce turnover among our security staff?” While many of the responses focused on training and recognition, there exists the notion that something is inherently wrong with the people who take those hourly officer positions. ￼The real underlying concern isn’t, “Are we hiring the wrong people?” ￼but instead, “What’s wrong with the way we are managing our people, and how do we develop the most effective and valuable security force possible?”
The answer begins with a close look at the way we traditionally classify the more than one million security officers in the United States: unarmed or armed? Armed security officers are more likely to be aligned with law enforcement, have tactical training, and be experienced with lethal weapons that are disallowed in some campus settings. Unarmed officers are typically younger, less experienced, earning a much lower hourly rate or salary (as low as $8.43/hour and a mean annual wage of just over $27,000 [BLS]). Ultimately, these unarmed officers are the employees who are expected to deliver an appropriate response, frequently without appropriate equipment or training.
The reason that security guards turnover at an astonishingly high rate — 400% — is also an indicator of operational risk. The avoidable risks that create a dispirited workforce also get companies in trouble with liability litigation. A security company executive said to us recently, “When they’re quitting your company to work for 50 cents less at McDonald’s, they aren’t quitting because of the pay.”
The True Cost of Avoidable Risk
A liability legal judgment can cost enough to put a smaller guard service company out of business overnight. For a large organization like the Los Angeles Dodgers, who were recently found partially liable for the beating of a fan that left him brain damaged, the judgment of $13.9 million is just the beginning of the fallout from inadequate and poorly prepared security forces. If building a better guard is the key to avoiding litigation, then why isn’t everyone doing it? There’s a misconception that it costs too much. Even a large organization like the Dodgers isn’t exempt from these mistakes. One former officer testified that the organization was ill-equipped ￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼to handle the massive crowd that arrived for opening day in 2011 when the beating incident occurred: “This is the first security job that I had worked where there really wasn’t any order to ￼how things should be done as far as my safety, the protection of fans.” You can figure out how much that type of mistake is costing your organization. Assign a true ￼dollar value to each of the following operational costs associated with lost employees.
No-shows: To re-assign staff and pay overtime covering absent officers will increase costs. ￼Above average turnover: A study from the Center for American Progress on the cost of turnover says ￼it will cost you about 16% of that person’s annual salary to replace him. ￼Replacing lost business with new business: You’ll typically spend eight times as much earning a new ￼account as you will maintaining the one you have. ￼If you’re spending more to recover from turnover than you are on your equipment, it’s time to ￼invest in better equipment.
There’s no mystery about it, security jobs come with personal risk. A recent spate of stabbings on hospital and school campuses has changed the language of planning for violent attacks from “active shooter response” to “urgent response.” While these types of attacks statistically are rare, unarmed officers do face armed attacks. Even with all the pieces in place for protecting a campus, the most essential piece is still human. A Michigan State University study concluded, “Many states still lack any training standards — meaning security guards must learn on the job if their company doesn’t provide training — while some states do not require any minimum education or even a criminal background check for guards.”
Ideally, the campus will have enacted training scenarios on a well-documented response plan, including emphasis on the role of the nonsworn campus security officer. That role is not to apprehend and detain an aggressor. A nonsworn officer should be capable of calling for assistance and immediately taking action that will delay and deter an attack on others while law enforcement arrives.
Because campuses may be located in or adjacent to high crime areas, the risk assessment should extend beyond the campus. Employees, students, visitors and patients may have to traverse areas with more known crime — such as parking garages — to reach their destination. In a healthcare setting, guards may be one part safety patrol and one part customer service, both keeping the peace and helping people who arrive distressed and in need of attention. They also are the front-line defense against people who are there to conduct illegal business such as stealing cars, dealing drug, and committing assaults.
￼Add in the potential for violence in an environment that is already stacked with vulnerabilities, and the role of the campus security officer demands more control than the average duty belt provides.
Burnout and the Duty Belt
If there is one notion that holds the security industry back from breaking out of its own stereotypes, it’s the false choice between unarmed and armed, and all the assumptions that follow. That’s a discussion that takes us to the duty belt.
Which tools to place on a guard’s duty belt can be a fiery topic. Is the belt carrying more than you need, or less than you want? Does it have too much force or too little defensive capability? All of which lead to risk and liability for the security provider and the client. Besides his own swagger, the only thing between a guard and a potentially bad incident outcome is the duty belt. Without the right tools, this can create a desperate situation, especially for a lone guard on foot patrol with responsibility for acres of campus and hundreds of lives.
A new classification of device has emerged that addresses the issue for security professionals of too little/too much, plus the need for quick communication and defense. An Enhanced Non- Lethal, or ENL, device combines the functions of several duty belt tools. The ability to immediately alert a supervisor to an incident in progress is crucial, as is the ability to accurately document that event and take steps to prevent escalation of the crime. Those actions can require three or four tools to accomplish, making the guard a soft target and putting the perpetrator at the advantage. For that reason, to be classified as an ENL, a device must offer two or more non-lethal technologies for de-escalation and an integrated alerting/communication capability in one platform.
The introduction of ENL devices into the previously “unarmed” guard category opens up a completely new offering for security operations: the “Intermediate” patrol. Consider all the tools that an unarmed officer on foot patrol on a college campus may be required to carry: they may be equipped with pepper spray, a flashlight, a baton, a radio with backup battery and/or a cellphone. If a situation occurs, an emergency response plan dictates the order in which actions to protect the campus and its constituents should occur, but a perpetrator’s plans seldom accommodate. And no matter how skilled the officer, he only has two hands.
Intermediate Response Wins Business
Intermediate response as a skill set is a new offering in the security marketplace. With this ENL capability, the security officer is now more confident and amply trained, which increases his or her value to the campus, lowers risk, and enhances the safety of everyone involved.
The winning point here is that the campus security officers have the right tools for the job without making administrators queasy about the potential use-of-force risk scenario that accompanies an armed security team.
Now that you know what turnover is costing you, it’s clear how intermediate defense can be a game changer.
Intermediate Response and the Security Officer: Paired for Success
Campuses of all sizes and types face huge responsibilities to assure the safety of their residents, visitors, patients and staff, and protection of their own assets. Add to these the responsibility to train, equip and elevate the confidence of their security team. Deploying intermediate, Enhanced Non-Lethal (ELN) tools offers defense and protection against risk and liability all in one tool — ENLs can produce better outcomes through incident control, staff morale and retention, as well as new offerings to bolster the bottom line.
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