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Are security officers any different?

I DISTINCTLY RECALL marching in the 1969 Memorial Day Parade in Arlington Heights, IL. I had a crew-cut hairstyle, and I was proudly marching with 50 other boys from Boy Scout Troop 159, all of us wearing our green uniforms and shined shoes. If you are under the age of 33, you may not comprehend the significance of having a short, military-type haircut and wearing a green uniform in public at anytime during the Vietnam War. It just wasn't cool to look like you were part of the establishment or to resemble a soldier.

After a while I learned to take pride in my appearance and ignore the ridicule, although I still resisted wearing the uniform in public and did everything I could to get out of it. I had one problem with getting out of wearing the uniform and that was the scoutmaster-he was also my father. " You should set the example, " he would tell me. "Be better than the rest. nat's the matter, aren't you proud of that uniform? Aren't you proud of all of your awards and badges?"

I was proud and I did set the example, but that did little to console me as I mentally prepared myself to face the name calling, disgusted looks, and laughter. I learned how to march, salute, obey orders, and lead others. I was different, and I represented what a lot of the population resented.

I am not unhappy with what happened during my childhood, nor am I unhappy with the lessons I learned about human behavior and life. The experiences I had left an imprint on my psyche. I still don't like uniforms.

I don't like security personnel in uniforms either. In every security assignment I have had I've taken the security personnel out of uniform. Setting aside a debate over which is better, uniforms or nonuniforms, I discovered during the last nine years that the security personnel who have worked for me are very much like the Boy Scouts. They don't like to wear their uniforms in public. They'll go home and change clothes before going to the store even if it's out of their way. They take advantage of any chance to avoid wearing the uniform.

Uniformed security personnel are often stereotyped by the public as being uneducated, incapable of getting a better job, and capable only of logging people and vehicles in and out. The stereotypes are not fair and are almost always incorrect. Forcing security personnel to wear uniforms never seemed very productive to me.

On four occasions I changed the dress code from uniforms to conservative business attire. I required security personnel to dress in the same manner as the management and supervisory personnel.

I achieved the same results each time. Although there were dissenting opinions, the majority of the comments were positive, both from security personnel and from other employees. Attitudes from the public improved as well. Vendors talking to a security guard wearing a shirt and tie felt like they were talking to someone in authority and more readily accepted instructions or the unpopular answer of "no" from the guard than they would from a uniformed officer.

I also noticed a drop in the turnover rate of contract security personnel. Since there had been no change in wages or benefits, some of the reduced turnover rate had to be attributed to the fact that guards were wearing business attire, not uniforms.

In my most recent job, an employee wrote a memo to the general manager to protest the fact that security personnel were no longer in uniform. The writer said the guards should be required to wear uniforms because they were different from the rest of the employees. The writer continued that he or she had observed several new faces among the security staff. It was therefore obvious to me that the person did not have any trouble identifying them as members of the security staff, although the writer specifically complained that he or she could not determine if a person was a security guard from a distance.

The general manager asked my opinion concerning the comments. I said security department employees were not different from other employees. They have the same rights and benefits as other employees. They participate in the company's quality plan and make the same commitment to providing quality services.

I also told him that I could not think of a business reason why an employee needed to be able to tell from a distance that another employee was a security guard. The suspicious side of me could think of several illegitimate reasons. If there is a legitimate reason, the writer didn't share it with me.

Safety and security personnel aren't there simply to satisfy local city and state reporting requirements or because other big companies have them. A company's management team has to believe that safety and security functions contribute to the bottom line and play a part in the overall business plan.

My general manager agreed and said he knew how to respond to the complaining party.

This topic stimulates great debate. Some managers insist security personnel belong in uniform, and that's that. If it works for you and it isn't broken, don't fix it. The environment at the facilities where I have worked needed some fine-tuning, and you already know I don't like uniforms-although I still wear a Boy Scout uniform quite often in my role as scoutmaster. If you disagree with my point of view, maybe you should talk to my father. I'm sure you'd get along quite well. About the Author . . . David R. Stratton, CPP, is the supervisor of security and office services for the Micro-Rel division of Medtronic Inc. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Society for Industrial Security
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:security personnel uniform
Author:Stratton, David R.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Previous Article:Securing a sound force.
Next Article:Beating the high cost of turnover.

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