How to professionalizethe security industry
After more than 400 years the private security industry in the UK can claim advances in proficiency yet continues to fall behind in its pursuit of professionalism. As a private security analyst, I’ll tell you why I believe the industry needs to do more to break away from a public perception that has it as no more than a force of ‘night watchmen.’
I strongly believe that there is no room in the industry for watchmen. Instead, the industry needs to develop a clear career path for those who join, and demonstrate that it is an industry with the ability to make a significant contribution to the overall security of the country.
As a store detective, I worked with a number of the country’s larger retailers. Constant contact with customers enabled me to track a variety of situations but, after around 3years there are two incidents that remain with me.
The first happened during my first day on duty at a store in Camberley. A couple entered the store and headed for the coat section. The lady removed a coat from the hanger, tried it on and casually walked over to the exit and with her partner made a run for a waiting car-The cost of the coat… £900 – Why high value coats were not protected better and why were they so close to the exit? These are questions I asked myself.
So with this in mind whenever I was assigned to a retail store, during my store tour, I identified items of high value and determined whether they were positioned in a location that facilitated their easy removal from the store. I always submitted my findings with suggestions for improved security to the store management. Some managers cooperated but most of them didn’t. After all I am only a ‘security,’ what do I know?
On another occasion I was assigned to a store in London Colney. It was located in the middle of nowhere, and no more than two minutes from the motorway. Two big retailers shared the site.
The store I guarded had two fire exits that opened towards the motorway. The toilets were situated between the two stores. For me, this meant that a shoplifter could take bags of merchandise towards the toilet but since technically they are still within the confines of the store security could not interrogate or apprehend them.
The biggest problem though was the merchandising of the stock. There were high value coats and jackets at the entrance. I raised my concerns in discussion with the store manager and gave him the benefit of my professional opinion, but he did nothing. Within a few hours of our discussion, seven of the jackets were snatched. Again, I was proven right.
You see, the store’s location made it easy for shoplifters to drive up to the store, make a quick grab, dash and speed off back onto the motorway. After that incident I advised the manager to remove the rest of the jackets from the entrance. He informed me that the plan for arranging merchandise on the shop floor comes directly from their head office. I suggested that maybe he needed to call the head office and inform them that his store was located in the middle of a ‘free for all’ and the current layout was unsuitable for this location. He listened but never acted on my advice. A few days later thirteen of the jackets were stolen. Finally he decided to remove them from the entrance. But his organization had already lost £5000.
Why didn’t the manager listen to me? Maybe it’s because Security officers have always had a love hate relationship with retail managers.
At times I feel that security is seen by most security buyers as a grudge purchase or an unneeded expense, instead of an investment. The main reason for this perception has been the industry’s inability to clearly define its role in the security pyramid of the UK. Everyone knows that the Police are responsible for enforcing the law, the Armed Forces defend sovereignty, MI5 and MI6 are internal and external operatives. Who or what is a security officer? How does the industry define itself? In marketing there is a saying that it’s not what is said but how it is said. It seems to me that the industry has been unable to define itself to the country and sadly for those who have chosen private security as a vocation.
Four Hundred Years On
The concept of private security is not a modern phenomenon. In fact, private security existed in the UK before the police force. Cave drawings and other archaeological findings clearly attest to the fact that the issue of safety has long been the concern of man from the beginning of time. The earliest security officers can be traced back to the 1600s when out of the desire to protect their property, wealthy merchants established a private security force known at the time as ‘Shiver and Shake Watch’. This was followed by the Bow Street Runners and eventually the Marine Police Force, sometimes known as the Thames River Police and believed to be England’s first professional Police force.
It was formed in 1798 by magistrate Patrick Colquhoun and a Master Mariner John Harriott, to tackle theft and looting from ships anchored in the Pool of London and the lower reaches of the river… The 1800s saw the creation of what can be considered the modern police force when the concept of the rights of the individual began to take hold. For the first time tax revenues were used to pay for night watch.
With the development of trade and the expansion of the free market economy also came laws that illegalised many previous practices. At the same time an increase in serious crime brought pressure to bear on the local constabulary and forced officers to prioritize their response,
Once again wealthy individuals decided to purchase their own security. This saw emergence of a more wide spread and professional private security industry. Like most privately owned businesses, the private security industry was left to operate under its own code. The result was near anarchy as criminal gangs drifted into an increasingly profitable industry.
In an attempt to regulate the industry in 2001, parliament enacted the Private Security Industry Act. That led to the formation of the Security Industry Authority.
Today’s security industry is a far cry from the night watch of yester year. It is a multi-billion pound global industry, employs three times more people than the police and engages in a raft of activities from event management to ferrying millions of pounds each day to businesses around the country. More recently it has become involved in the transportation of prisoners,
However, the industry is faced with a number of very important questions:
Step One to Professionalizing – Definition
As security professionals how do we define ourselves? And what powers do we have? If we are to dispel the notion that we are just night watchmen to be called upon as the need arises, the issue of definition needs to begin with the government, police and other stalwarts of security in this country. We are a significant part of the security structure and we are on the frontline of the prevention and maintenance of law and order. But we are a 21st century force with a sixteenth century mandate. We face modern day challenges and are expected to tackle them without the necessary tools or legislation. Consequently, the professionalizing process has to begin with an amendment in the Private Security Industry Act that provides a clear definition of our roles and powers.
Step Two to Professionalizing – Training
Whilst on duty in Camberley, I noticed two women stuffing their handbags with jewelry. I radioed CCTV control to keep a watch on them while I observed them from a distance. When they were satisfied that they had taken enough, they walked out of the store without paying for the merchandise. There were already two security officers positioned at the exit, so as they exited the store they were apprehended. While leading them towards the holding room, one of the ladies dropped to the floor at the entrance of the store and refused to stand up. It took three officers almost forty-five minutes to safely move her to the holding room.
A few weeks after this incident, I was assigned to a store in Cheshunt. While patrolling the aisles, I noticed a female customer remove a scarf and jumper and concealed them in her handbag. I kept her in my sight until she stepped out of the store without paying. I approached her and identified myself as a security officer. On hearing this she sped off. I chased after her and apprehended her in the middle of a car park. I felt I could handle her on my own. This was until a gentleman approached with a knife and threatened me. Because of my training I eventually managed to subdue him and take control of the situation. No one was injured.
Like me many security officers are faced with potentially dangerous situations every day but too many of them are inadequately trained to deal with unpleasant situations.
There needs to be three stages of training: Pre-licensing, Continuous development and Specialization
The SIA needs to recruit an adult literacy expert to work with industry professionals to design a training programme. The way the current programme is designed makes it impossible for anyone to absorb all the required information in 30 hours and be able to use it effectively.
Along with the pre-licensing course work, there needs to be an in-house course designed for security companies that will be used internally to further develop new & seasoned security officers. Developments in security legislation should be incorporated into any continuous training & development programme. Security officers should also be assessed every 3 years to ensure that they are complying with the legislation. The renewal of their license will depend on their continued development and knowledge of the industry…
If Security officers expect to be treated like professionals, then we must begin to behave as professionals. There is no professional in the world that undergoes only 30 hours of training in their lifetime. With the barrier for entry into the security industry so low we need to raise the level of training to give us the extra recognition we require to be seen as a professional industry.
In this country we have a few of the best institutions in the world: the BBC, Oxford & Cambridge, Scotland Yard, Fleet Street and above all the British Armed Forces. For centuries these institutions have been setting standards for the rest of the world to follow. The introduction of the SIA was another opportunity for Britain to set the standard and create a model of professionalism within the private security industry for the rest of the world to copy and learn from. After all we were the first country to introduce the concept of licensing in the security industry. However, the current structure is not designed for the extra tasks it is expected to undertake. The SIA was created to license security officers and accredit security companies.
Therefore professionalizing the private security Industry will require:
- Redefining the mandate of the SIA and restructuring it with the appropriate framework and mechanisms
- Defining our role within the grand scheme of the security structure in the UK
- Creating a set of criteria for entry
- Revamping the training regime to make it fit for purpose
The UK private security industry is seen by some as a gravy train, run by people who have never worked a single day as a security officer. If we are truly serious about professionalizing the industry, we will need to engage with those who understand the challenges facing the various stake holders.
Let those who regulate the security industry be reminded that there is no place in the 21st century for an institution that is run along the lines that made it fit for purpose in the sixteenth century.