"Guard" versus "Officer": What's your view?
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 "I think there are some people in the industry that do not like the term 'guard,' feeling that is an outdated title, one that demeans the position by creating the image of the old-time security guard that slept in a factory in between doing rounds, mostly to make sure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.