Magazine article Security Management

To Arm or Not to Arm?

Magazine article Security Management

To Arm or Not to Arm?

Article excerpt

WE HAVE ALL WATCHED violent crime increase in this country. Yet, most municipalities have been financially unable to increase the size of their police departments to meet the demand for increased protection. As a result, private security is now contracted to do many jobs formerly performed by police officers, and this trend will continue. As private security's role expands, the issue of when to arm security officers and what standards to set should be reexamined by guard service providers and end users.

Because of the financial liability, many contract security officer companies have had to reduce the number of armed accounts they accept. Some will not accept any armed accounts; others try to dissuade clients from insisting on armed officers; and still others limit their armed accounts to a small percentage of their total business.

Major changes need to occur in the private security industry's approach to providing armed security. Companies today are willing to arm their employees without conducting background checks. These employees have poor work records, yet they only need to qualify once or twice a year for firearm training--and the industry even helps them comply with creative score keeping.

Clearly something must be done, yet with the high turnover of security officers, the low wages, and the low level of training, many companies may not be ready to take on such responsibilities without higher returns. Companies are reluctant to raise the price of security officers for fear of losing clients.

The attitude toward private security will only change when the public sees improvements in the education, standards, and professionalism of security personnel. The private security industry may have to establish a larger gap between armed and unarmed officers, showing well-defined differences in the standards for each.

For example, the term "guard" might indicate the unarmed segment of the industry and the term "security officer" might refer to the armed segment. Armed officers could be deputized with police powers of arrest, search and seizure, and investigation, as is occurring in many parts of the country for campus, public housing, and nuclear plant security.

If major security companies demanded higher standards for armed officers and insisted that no shortcuts be taken in selection, hiring, and training, then the industry could sell the services of higher qualified officers for a better rate of pay and benefits. This effort would reduce turnover, increase the experience of the officers, and, increase the opportunity to have additional education and training.

If the caliber of armed officers were elevated, performance mistakes would be reduced, sound decision-making skills would proliferate, and clients' satisfaction would increase. For example, every armed officer could be required to have completed a minimum of two years of college, have successfully completed a battery of psychological tests, and pass a weapons test on a monthly basis. Providing better orientation training and adding more highly qualified supervisors also could enhance the quality of armed officers.

Does this sound like an impossible dream? Remember the quantum leap made in police training and standards in the 1960s and 1970s set in motion by the protests and riots? The minimal pay, standards, and training provided in that era are similar to what are provided today in the private security industry. …

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