Swapping sworn police for security guards: Is it a fair trade?

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10/28/2011

In the past week I've seen two news articles about public organizations getting rid of sworn police officers in favor of contract security guards.

In Virginia, the Virginia Port Authority wants to cut 45 of its 71 police officers and replace them with contract security guards to save as much as $2 million per year. And in Minnesota, the town of Foley is cancelling its contract with the county sheriff's department for police services in favor of hiring General Security Services Corp. to supply security guards to patrol the town, a move that will save the town $90,000 a year. David Hyde, a security consultant in Toronto, told me the same trend is being seen in Canada, where municipal police budgets are being cut and officers laid off and replaced with contract security.

It's not a surprise. With tight budgets being the status quo, organizations are constantly looking for ways to save money. Manpower is often one of the biggest costs, so becomes a target for potential savings.

But what are the consequences when it comes to swapping police officers for security officers? Is security being compromised to save money?

In Virginia, the port authority claims the replacement of sworn officers with security guards will not compromise the port's security. But the fact remains there are things a sworn officer can do that a security guard can't. Whether that gap in abilities sacrifices security is up for debate. But there is at least one compelling argument the port's recent decision will make the port less secure: the hypocrisy inherent in claiming that a sworn police force that has been sustained over the years by saying it's necessary to keep the port and the supply chain safe is now no longer necessary and can be replaced with a cheaper alternative. That, for me, is the toughest aspect of the port's claim to swallow.

In the Foley, Minn., example, the question of how this type of decision affects security seemed to be answered in the following paragraph:

"The security officers do not enforce state laws or intervene in criminal matters, he said. The security officers will not be making arrests and all crimes will be referred to the sheriff’s office, he said."

The "he" the article refers to is Bill Leoni, director of northern regions for General Security Services. So, basically the town is cancelling its contract with the sheriff's department to provide sworn police officers on the street, but under this new system the sheriff's deputies will still be responsible for coming to the town whenever there's a criminal activity going on, they'll just have to come from farther away. All while the security guards do what—watch the criminal activity? Sure, these security guards will be armed and have the ability to make citizens arrests, but those guards will not be authorized to use those weapons unless for self-defense, so it seems safe to assume they won't be getting involved if anything serious is occurring. This sounds to me like a decision that compromises the security and safety of this town and its residents.

But budgets are real, and money doesn't grow on trees, so the pressure to cut costs will continue to grow, leaving security directors and—the ones who hold the purse strings—the top brass to contemplate how they can save money without compromising security. It's a shame, really. As Jay Grant, director of the International Association of Airport and Seaport Police, told me: "It's always too bad if we have to start looking at security just based on our budget dollars."

Care to add your voice to the conversation? Email me at wrichardson@securitydirectornews.com and let me know what you think.

Whit Richardson
Managing Editor
Security Director News

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Comments

In many states there is a very small difference (other than benefits, training, retirement and salary) between police and a quality security force. There are professional designations like certified protection officer or physical security professional. Additionally there are security companies that provide 40 hour ( more if clients request) basic training and ongoing continuing education as well. How many times have the police prevented a burglary, store robbery, or car theft? We can't afford a policeman on every corner but many businesses can afford a security officer at their business as a deterrent. The security officer is a recognized deterrent where the police show up to make the arrest or more often to take the report. Policing in American has not changed from the paramilitary model that it developed in the early 1900s.

By no means do I believe that security officers can replace sworn officers; with contract security having to bid the lowest for the contract, then pay staff out of it; turn over is always going to be high; couple that with lack or minimal training and the recipe is not a good one. Here in Michigan, under a state law, in-house security officers can be empowered with misdemeanor arrest authority on the grounds of the business they work for, (security police). I see this trend going this way more and more. These “security police officers” are not “observe and report”, they are able to deal with offenders of misdemeanor crimes, while sworn police concentrating on felonies. Here at the library we are applying for this empowerment just to help out the already stretched thin PD. The goal is that we will help cut the crime rate just by us being able to handle our part of the 90% of PD runs (misdemeanors). As we no longer have to call the PD to come and handle the disorderly, minor fights, simple trespass, etc they would be coming after we made the arrest just to transport to lockup, freeing the sworn officers to handle major crimes.

Tim Tompkins CIPM
Director of Security Operations
Detroit Public Library
5201 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48202

This may become a moot point in the near future. Many juristictions are moving to give private security full police powers on the contracted properties. Some even run blue lights. This trend is more to fill the gap between service provided and service needed due to economic reality. With proper training and regulation, private industry can easily fill this need.
Sgt. Eric Kelly
Georgia Certified Classroom and Firearms Instructor
CTFR 001136

The biggest problem exists in professionalism. Sure, the cities may save up front but where they will start paying out through the nose is when one of the security guards, who probably couldn't pass a police background no matter what, does something serious to to violate rights or doesn't do anything at all because after all, they are only security. Their job is to observe and report, nothing else. They aren't capable or even trained to handle police officer duties and should not be confused as such. If I lived in one of these towns, I would push for a recall of the idiots who think this is smart and fire the dumb SOB who thinks a security guard is worth anything at all. If anyone jeopardized my safety like this, there would be hell to pay. We all pay taxes because we expect properly trained police officers to protect us.

You are mixing water and oil.
Security and Police are two totally different professions. Both have a key and important role in this world. Security, in Louisiana, can only utilize arrest powers in the event of a felony. It is among the same powers as the average citizen, nothing more. They are not police.
Security responsibility is to protect the business, property, persons, etc. of which they are employed or contracted to. This is done by:
> Evaluating vulnerabilities, risks and impacts.
>being involved in the Policy, Planning, Performance and Scheduling
> Surveillance
> Awareness
> Securing Evidence
> Training
> Investigation
> Reporting
> Limited Actions

Security should be a totally separate group/line in business reporting directly to a corporate/business head such as Chief Executive Officer, President or Owner.

If necessary Security can observe/report/restrict/suspend or remove persons and/or vehicles from an entire area or sections of an area only by policies, regulations and/or for the protection of persons or assets and only within property they are employed or contracted to protect.

Security should be trained in Awareness, Report Writing, Evaluations, Communications, Current Events, etc. as well as the bold line between Security and Law Enforcement.
Security is not solely for the protection of persons and assets but also for the reputation of the business/entity they are employed by. There are issues better handled within and not with law enforcement and the general public. However, when a law is broken and merits further action the proper law enforcement should be called in to handle.
This does not mean some entities may have both Security and Law Enforcement departments. It depends on the situation. For example Railroads, Ports, Universities, etc. may have both. However, there must be a distinction between the two.