"Guard" versus "Officer": What's your view?

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06/04/2012

What's the difference between a security guard and a security officer?

I'm sure many people have their opinions on this question. I heard one reader's opinion a few weeks ago after I wrote a blog post, "Security as customer service: Why not recruit guards from the hospitality sector," about how Jim Birch, security director at the Comcast Center office building in Philadelphia, had recruited from the local hospitality sector for his staff of "security ambassadors."

Within the post, I used the terms security "officer" and security "guard" interchangeably, something this commenting reader—a security professional for one of the major guard companies—took me to task for. "I find most security 'officers' working in the public arena resent being referred to as 'guards', they/we don’t work in prisons and jails," this reader wrote. "Seldom do we just guard something, we patrol, interact with people, observe and report."

He told me the Comcast Center's "security ambassadors" were likely "not smiling" at my article and closed with a tip for me. "I believe if you want to gain respect and a following you might want to avoid demeaning your audience," he wrote.

I take reader comments seriously. Feedback is crucial in helping me improve SDN and guide how I cover the security profession so I'm delivering the most value to my readers. So I wanted to know if I had, in fact, inadvertently demeaned my audience. I asked Jeffrey Hawkins, American Military University's manager of strategic initiatives for the private security sector, about the different terms and where the discussion is within the profession. "I think there are some people in the industry that do not like the term 'guard,' feeling that is an outdated title, one that demeans the position by creating the image of the old-time security guard that slept in a factory in between doing rounds, mostly to make sure there were no fires in the building," Hawkins wrote in an email. However, "If you look at the actual Webster’s definition, the term 'guard' is actually more applicable to what security personnel do 'to protect'; the definition 'officer' is defined as one with police authority."

Hawkins believes security professionals have abandoned the traditional definitions of "guard" and "officer" and developed their own interpretations. "My feeling is there are still 'security guards' and there is nothing wrong with that; I think of these folks who are generally at a fixed location and oversees the protection of an object, or area, or certain point of access. I feel 'officer' is probably more applicable to uniformed security personnel who patrol and perform more 'police-like' functions."

However, the terms are not universal. "Many states still classify the security industry personnel as 'guards,' so it is still widely used and will probably be a long time, if ever, before it is not associated with the security industry."

What's your opinion? Are the words interchangeable? Is the term "guard" a stumbling block along the path to increasing the professionalism of security?

Whatever you think, it's clear I need to be more sensitive to the issue and more careful with my word choice in the future.

Comments

Good topic, Whit! It should breed lively discussion and consternation for security managers who are on the fence as to what term to use.

Jim Burch, Comcast Security Director, has it right! All you have to do is ask the employee's closest relative: "what does he/she do for a living?" Most people would hesitate when saying, "he is a security guard." It just doesn't sound important enough.

Although, terms like these can be found in other industries, too. Bank teller, corrections officer (note, not corrections guard), cop vs. policeman or police officer. The word "officer" has been used over thousands of years and it most closely associated with having authority or oversight of others. It is in this context that the military or other hierarchies use the term. If this is true, then the term security officer is misapplied if it refers to an individual with little or no authority over persons or enforcement rights; in this case, entry level security persons. True, one could argue that they (security officers) have the authority to enforce company policies and procedures. However, If someone asked you, "who are the 'officers' in your company?", most would say a director or a board-level person.

Nevertheless, whatever term you decide to use, is a  personal choice. And, care should be taken to use it consistently throughout your documents and business setting. Not interchangeably. It leads to confusion.

And, I agree with Hawkins when he says that it may depend on your work function and environment. Let's face it, the term 'guard' is not as attractive as ambassador, officer, professional, or specialist. However, it certainly has its place for use in our industry from a legal standpoint and other reasons. And, it will be around for a long-time.

 

Jeremiah Frazier, CPP

Board Certified in Security Management

http://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremiahfrazier 

My view as someone in the Protection Services business since 1972, as a Federal Officer serving as a Security and Intelligence Professional, and then moving into the Private Security Management Industry in 1980. I have seen the Secuirty Industry change often, and it is important for the Security industry to focus on real issues such as; Front Line Training, and Compensation, and upgrading the technical skills of the line staff who protect millions of dollars of equipment,facilities and key organizational leaders.
What these individuals are called is important but should not dettract from the services they perform, which are Protection Services, which is the term I use when speaking of front line Security staff,supervisors and managers. In point of fact wether these individuals work for a contract Security company or as proprietry Security, they are legally "agents" of the contract company or the Fortune 100 company they work for. It is my professional opinion that the Security Industry must foucs its attention on the quality of services and people provided, and not detract from what they contribute, by foucsing on how we identify these professionals.

Australia is similar to many other countries in relation to our security industry.  licensing refers to guards however training courses refer to a security officer's course.

Over many years in a variety of industries in Australia that employ security staff, guards have been employed where a single point of entry or a facility is guarded and security staff comply strictly with laid down guidelines. These sites would include millitary base guard posts, prisons, police watch-houses, retail security guard, industrial sites etc.  Security Officers are employed in positions where they have been charged with making decisions based on the situation.  These staff are employed in positions such as loss prevention officers, security officers in the mining industry and in some government positions.  In my varied career, i have been employed in all of these roles.

Overall, they are security agents of a service provider and  I agree that the importance of the quality of security personnel and their level of training is more important than their title.

Great topic, Whit!

I was watching a movie (Mall Cop) where the main character stated “It's just that there's a huge, huge controversy brewing in the industry right now, whether the title should be Security Guard or Officer.” I suppose everyone perceives it differently. To me both terms mean exactly the same thing although everyone likes the term “officer” as it sounds more professional and seems to have more authority. Some claim that the difference is whether you are armed or not, patrol officer (for incident response)or fixed post guard (watchman), or the difference is skill set/training.

I shared this article with my colleagues and received some pretty good feedback.  Maybe they differ by region. In the states they are issued a Security Guard lisence and my colleagues in India report that these (SG and SO) are two different designations of security professionals in their country. The security guard and security officer are both protectors but in a different manner. Each has their own separate job description, duty responsibilities and training.

Differences in Title:

  • Security Guards typically have little responsibility other than basic fire safety and building integrity tasks.
  •  
  • Security Officers may have very elaborate protocols that involve a wider range of tasking and responsibilities. He will be the person controlling entire physical security operation at the posted assignment and provide appropriate instruction to the deployed guarding force.

 

Differences in Training:

  • Security Guards often have minimal training, since they are seen as more of a human alarm system that when tripped, reports incidents which comes to their notice on static or roving post.
  •  
  • Security Officers are typically trained to a standard more to take decision on spot in co ordination with management and also to approaching law enforcement if required. This is because they are often mandated to respond to incidents,

 

Differences in Wages:

  • Security Guards are entry-level personnel in the protective services field and, as such, are paid on average at or just above the state-mandated minimum wage.
  •  
  • Security Officers due to their higher level of training, experience and job responsibilities are paid more in line with local law enforcement and corrections personnel in their community.

 

In India the minimum wages act of the land categorizes the levels to be the following;

  1. S/Guard
  2. S/Supervisor
  3. S/ Officer
  4. S / Assignment Manager

v/r,

Siomary

Thanks for the comments everyone. It's obviously a topic people are interested in discussing. The conversation is also going on in several LinkedIn groups, and thought I'd share a few comments from there.

One security professional in Ontario, Canada, shared the fact that recent provincial law forbids any "private investigator, security guard or person who engages in the business of selling the services of private investigators or security guards" to "use the following terms or variations of them: 1. Detective or Private Detective. 2. Law enforcement. 3. Police. 4. Officer." So I guess there's not much argument in Ontario. Private security professionals must use the term "guard" or some other creative title, like Jim Birch's "security ambasssadors."

Another well-argued comment on LinkedIn really dug into the linguistics behind the terms and argued that "officers" should have certain powers—such as arrest powers—granted by a state or other government, while "guard" should be used for everyone who doesn't have those state-granted powers.

It seems to be an evolving topic that involves personal ideas, a desire to further professionalize the security field and the thoughts of politicians in various places. Let's keep the discussion going.

-Whit

 

With the greatest of respect (And to be honest i can't actually believe I'm stooping to answer/comment on this) Security Professionals (Call them what you will) put themselves in positions (not by choice) so that you are around to make comments like this.

Whilst I am fortunate enough to live in the UK, having served 26 years in HM Forces, and therefore probably in your mind not worth listening to, you do a great disservice to the security profession with your comments and you should take a minute to  understand that you can make these comments due to the professionalism of others.

Chris (aka Foxx),

I'm not sure I understand where you're coming from with your comment. Everyone here does have the greatest respect for security professionals. We're discussing peoples' opinions about the term security "officer" vs. security "guard" and the differences in their use determined by statute in various states and countries.

So, your accusation that I or anyone else who has joined the discussion is doing "a great disservice" to all security professionals is misplaced. I would appreciate it if you elaborated on your claim that this discussion is doing a disservice to security professionals.

I apologize you had to stoop so low to have a discussion about your own profession.

-Whit

this is similar to what we experience in India where the traditional term watchman was associated with someone sitting at the gate in a disheveled uniform and had little or no training. Today the majority of the market is covered with smart & trained personnel who are referred to as guards.

however, i feel that the next step from here is that the market will move toward provision of officers who are even better trained than guards.

After reviewing some previous articles; I ran across "Guard" versus "Officer":   I felt it necessary to include my personnel "professional" opinion regarding this subject. There is a place  and a media to use the term "Guard" and there is no demeaning or sarcastic motive or intent in the use of the term "Guard" when addressing  or  refering to a professional "Security Officer". It is the perception of the audiance or the individual being confronted or intertained by the comment. I have found that  because of historical practices of refering to  uniformed  personnel employed in the field of security, engaged in the business of guarding anything or responsible for the "security"  or "protection" of anything are more than not, refered to as "Security Guards" instead of "Security Officers". Of the  professionals, employed in the security industry, thre are many that accept  the term  "Security Guard" when it refers to them mostly because it is a common practice and not as a professional courtesy. Times change; do we address a Sanitary Engineer as a "Trash Truck Driver or a Trash Man";  there are  other terms that are not used in the mainstream such as "meter maid", "water man", "telephone man" , "milk man ", and many others because of the change in time  which is directed  at being "proper" or maybe "politicaly correct". Even the term "prison guard" mentioned in a previous comment is not a proper term; prison guards are now  refered to as " Correctional Officers" which sounds professional, however; ask a Correctional Officer what he / she does and they will probably tell you they are a Guard at a prison. That may be an initiator for another story (no disrespect or unprofessional inuindos intended).

Back to by comments; Yes,  Security Officers are involved in many aspects of protection which includes foot and vehicle  patrols, observations, interaction with the public, use of fire arms or other means of use of force ( which includes the knowledge of when to use force and and to what loevel), continuous professional  traiinng,  we could go on and on and yes being a professional security officer also includes "guarding a gate", "guardiing a building" , "guarding an object" etc, etc. The bottom line is that all of these positions are and will be performed by a "Professional Security Officer". A person employeed in the security industry to "guard a door " or as a "gate guard" for example, and expected to do no more than what they are instructed to do in those positions are also concidered to be a professional and demand equal respect as a professional.   If a person is content as being refered to as a "Guard", may he be  kept safe and prosper in his career. A "Security Officer" may also be assigned to this position from time to time; he / she  will not only do an excellent job as a guard, he  / she will also know how many employees are employed at the facility, what type of alarms systems  and fire systems are  within the facility and how they operate, what type of shift configuration the facility employlees are performing and may even eventually know all  employees by their first name. The security industry is made up of thousands of personnel that are hired to "guard" something at many levels of expertise and with numeruous competencies; These citizens are Professional "Security Officers". Security professionals are refered to as (i.e.) Officer Johns Jones or Officer Jane Doe not Guard Jones and Guard Doe.

Officer, I always cring when somone refers to one of my employees as a guard, they are so  much more than this nowadays

Ben @ Security MHQ