Keith Lavery writes about the relationship between security and law enforcement for Officer.com and SecurityInfoWatch.com.
[Editor's note: Keith Lavery is a new contributor to Officer.com (our sister site) and often writes about the relationship between private security and public sector law enforcement. When relevant, his monthly columns will also appear on SecurityInfoWatch.com. Lavery is a former LEO (who has moonlighted in private security), now working as a criminal justice educator. He is the law enforcement liaison for Cleveland, Ohio's ASIS International chapter.]
Remember the old adage, "Never judge a book by its cover"? I think it is safe to say that most of us still do, even though we are supposed to be "trained observers" or think from an investigative perspective. However, I have experienced that when law enforcement officers (LEOs) interact with security officers, the police types seem to shun those not driving a black and white.
As I look back over my police career, spanning the last 17 years, I can vividly recall responding to incidents where the local security officer was at the scene first. After clearing the call, officers I worked with would make snide remarks toward the security officer, such as "wannabe," "just a (expletive) guard," or something negative to that effect. I also remembered when I was in college and working part-time as an LEO I decided to work with a private investigator for additional hours so that I could make ends meet. This particular PI was a former police sergeant for a decent-size Ohio agency who told me, and evidently I have never forgotten it, "You will either get into security and then police work, or retire from police work and then go to security." The PI told me that one is a natural extension of the other. He left public service for the private sector because he had a wife and three kids; he doubled his salary. He wanted to give his family what he never had growing up, and he found out that the private sector was a lot more lucrative than working rotating shifts for the city. If you have done the job long enough and are like most cops, you can probably recall chasing bad guys on foot through dark alleys at "zero dark 30" in the morning for what seemed like nickel and dime compensation. Heck, I can remember doing just that for $6.00 an hour, and that was in 1993.
So why do cops treat security officers, or "guards"--whatever you want to call their occupation, although I think the term "guard" is most often used rudely--as a "lesser than"? Is it because LEO's have clear statutory authority? We protect the public, and they protect buildings? Training standards for uniformed physical security are generally lower than those than police? Maybe it's none of the above, or all of the above and then some. Personally, I think it boils down to ignorance on behalf of the cop, coupled with good old-fashioned police ego...if I am allowed to generalize. This is my article, so therefore, I will. Now, remember, I am still a police officer, so before you fire off thousands of hate mails my way, keep reading. I would argue that as human beings there is a natural tendency to believe what we see, no matter how well we are trained to be critical thinkers, and that is dangerous.
That's the danger of perception; it's shallow in depth. Therefore, it is limited in truth.
Remember being angry when you overheard someone say at the local dinner or coffee shop that "cops must not do anything because they are always sitting here" and you just arrived to eat your lunch four hours overdue and after you answered 15 calls within the last three hours? The public's perception of you can be nothing more than pure stupidity, right? The truth is that citizen who was judging you simply does not know your job, what you are trained to do, what you just did, and how you account for your every hour of your tour. They just saw you sitting there drinking coffee. Now, how many times have you been judgmental to others? I know I have been, too often.
At some point in your career as a cop, you will stop being a cop. We will not carry the badge forever. You will either retire with a full pension, partial pension, or disability. Then what do you do? Well that is up to you, but as that old PI once told me "...one is a natural extension of the other," and when the private sector can pay in the six figure range for well qualified security managers, who wouldn't want to make that transition? My wife and I recently returned from vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands. While at the resort I thought, "what is would be like to be the security manager here, waking up in paradise every morning, earning double what I made as a street cop?" But how would you get there if you wanted to make that change? What's required? Say, for instance, that you did not want to work in the security sector that focuses on a lodging environment. Are there other venues? You bet. There are many different aspects to working as a professional within the security industry. I will not cover them here; this is just the beginning.
About the author: Keith R. Lavery, M.A., is a full-time criminal justice educator teaching secondary education and having taught law enforcement, criminal justice and security courses at the post-secondary level. Keith had a very diverse police career for over 17 years, working in urban and rural law enforcement settings with assignments ranging from patrol to specialized functions, and to stay current in the field, works part-time as a patrol officer in Northeastern Ohio. Keith is currently the Law Enforcement Liaison for the Cleveland, Ohio, Chapter of ASIS International.