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Caretakers of the Times.


BACK IN 1982, THE EMPLOYEES and visitors of The Los Angeles Times didn't need an extra edition of the newspaper to read all about the need for more effective security. They saw it each day. A staff of only 35 security officers was responsible for securing the entire operation.

Today, under the management of John Nickols, director of security, and the assistance of a cadre of over 100 well-trained and enthusiastic security officers, the Times security services staff secures four press plants throughout the Southern California area containing millions of dollars' worth of equipment and also protects the headquarters facility, the nucleus of the company's operations.

"When I came here in January 1983, the security department was pretty much demoralized," remembers Nickols. "It was understaffed and not highly regarded or respected. Top management wanted to change the whole concept of security here. It wanted to go from a passive, disinterested image to a proactive group that truly represents the best of security--a staff that observes, reports, and takes care of business."

Since that time, Nickols and his staff have tranformed the department into a security services operation that provides medical and employee assistance as well as performs the traditional duties of monitoring and securing buildings, garages, and press plants.

The first step in this process was hiring the right people, people who were service oriented and enjoyed working with others. "We look for individuals who have a pleasing personality, want to participate, and are caretakers," explains Nickols. "Security officers are like nurses, doctors, police officers, and fire fighters in that they are caretakers. They don't mind being asked for help."

Recruiting women and minorities into the security department at the Times has been a major objective of Nickols's tenure, too. Minorities now make up about 50 percent of the security operation, and women account for approximately 26 percent. And their roles in the security services department are by no means minor. Two of the four multi-million-dollar press plants have women as security supervisors--Marion Stephens-Taylor of the Los Angeles Plant and Marci Sites of the Olympic Plant, the company's new $230 million press operation.

Bringing women into the department as officers was initially a slow process because it was considered such a non-traditional occupation. "Some of our women officers came on board with a background in sales or secretarial positions. This demonstrated to me that they can work effectively with a variety of people in a variety of situations--good and bad," Nickols adds.

The task of finding the right people doesn't end there, however. Each potential hire is subject to a background check. "The laws in California," continues Nickols, "are extremely rigid regarding background checks. We are not allowed to access police records, and we've never had polygraph screening. The alternative is to do a lot of one-on-one interviewing."

Nickols isn't kidding. Each candidate undergoes four to five interviews with four to five different people. Nickols then steps into the picture and meets with the security manager and the candidate. "This way," Nickols stresses, "I get to know everybody."

The building in downtown Los Angeles that houses the Times's administrative, editorial, and executive offices and some press operations has more than 4,000 employees coming in and out 24 hours a day. Proving your worth to these individuals is a different ballgame than proving your worth to management. "We've worked very hard to get employees beyond the old guard stereotype," Nickols explains. "We want them to know that they can come to us for a hand."

To encourage this attitude the security services staff is trained in basic first aid procedures as well as CPR so they can assist immediately in a medical emergency until paramedics arrive. They also provide transportation and basic emergency services for employees who, due to late-night deadlines, personal reasons, or car breakdowns, otherwise would be left stranded in potentially dangerous areas. Explains Nickols: "We teach our staff that they're here to help the employees and to say yes to a request for assistance if it's not too farfetched. They know they are to treat everyone, from top management to frontline staff, with respect and dignity."

The security services department is also in charge of issuing IDs to all visitors and employees at the Times and the Times Mirror Company, its parent organization and joint occupant of the headquarters building. "It's a nice way for employees to meet security and for security to get to know employees," continues Nickols.

When Nickols talks about meeting people, he doesn't mean just the employees. Part of a new security officer's training detail is to participate in security procedures when VIPs or foreign dignitaries visit the Times. "We try to expose our new employees to these situations so that they get accustomed to seeing high-profile people and learn to deal with the situations that occur when they are in the building," comments Nickols.

For example, in just one week CIA Director William Webster and Defense Secretary Richard Cheney visited the Times headquarters. Along with them came an entourage of Secret Service and FBI agents, to say nothing of the Los Angeles police department (LAPD). Such events require a significant amount of labor-intensive advance work that provides priceless experience for Nickols's staff.

Since the Time's building is private property, Nickols explains, his staff has the final say in how security will be provided. "This is a working newspaper," he stresses. "We can't close it down because a head of state wants to give a speech. We have a newspaper to get out, and our personnel--writers, editors, press operators, administrators, and executives--have to be able to come and go throughout the day and night.

"The only problem we've ever had with visiting VIPs occurred a couple of years ago when a Central American dignitary came to meet with our editorial board. His security detail wanted to come in carrying machine guns," grimaces Nickols. "We told him `no machine guns allowed.'"

Speaking of guns, you'll find none on the security officers at the Times or in the press plants. "Those of us in the business know that handguns are not real good for intimidating people," notes Nickols. "The people who present a problem for us here at the newspaper are usually mentally ill or are drug abusers. Pointing a gun at them will probably cause greater problems. Getting into life and death situations is not a part of our mission, which is to protect our building and our people."

PROTECTING A LARGE DAILY newspaper staff and other assets is an awesome responsibility, especially when considering the millions of dollars of equipment, hardware, and software at stake in its day-to-day operations. Besides these challenges, Nickols admits that tackling the everyday problems of car burglaries, property vandalism, and the homeless takes up a good portion of his staff's time. But the overriding problem is employee theft.

"One of the greatest problems in any industry today is employee theft," Nickols explains. "In our case, employees are the only ones who have the ability to get into the building undeterred in the middle of the night to skulk around and rip off materials. Unfortunately, in most cases these individuals are involved with drugs."

Considering everything that goes on at the newspaper and in the press plants, the items for theft may at first appear endless. However, according to Nickols, there aren't many people anxious to steal a roll of paper that weighs about a ton or a 6,200 gallon tank of black ink. "Even if someone could get one out of here, who is he or she going to sell it to?" asks Nickols.

Stealing some of those seemingly countless bags of quarters that come rolling into the cash operations department daily from newspaper stands and boxes may prove to be the ultimate treat for thieves. "Again," Nickols adds, "who wants to steal $1,000 worth of quarters? Just one sack of those quarters weighs about 50 pounds. Besides, our cash operations department has an ironclad security procedure to control all coins and checks."

The main computer center, a gold mine of information, might also be a strong lure for itchy fingers, but Nickols has that under lock and key--or rather, mantrap and access card control--too. "The computer center is one of our most highly restricted areas because it houses the newspaper's stories, advertising data, personnel payroll, budgets, and other accounting data. It's definitely a high priority in our security operation," he adds.

While high-tech access control equipment and procedures are integral to control in this area, Nickols believes that a biometric system would not be cost-effective. He explains: "First, biometrics is too slow for our type of operation. Second, this is not a defense plant. We're not building the stealth bomber here. We need control but not at that level."

Surprisingly, it's office equipment theft that keeps Nickols and his staff on their toes. VCRs, television sets, personal computers, adding machines, even telephones are among the most popular choices for insiders trying to make a fast buck. "Especially with the proliferation of the PCs in departments outside of the editorial offices, we've seen an increase in attempted thefts," Nickols confides.

After the traditional business hours of 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, the building is locked up. Only a few exits -- some fire doors -- are not staffed by security personnel. However, these exits are alarmed. "In one case concerning the theft of PCs," recalls Nickols, "the thief picked up a PC and escaped through the fire doors. Naturally the alarm went off, and the officer on duty chased the guy down the street. I guess the thief couldn't run and carry the equipment at the same time, so he put the PC down on the sidewalk and took off."

In cases such as this one, Nickols and his staff often work with the LAPD. He admits that in some cities the relationship between private and public security leaves a lot to be desired, but this is not so for his operation. "If we have any trouble that is beyond our capabilities, we call the LAPD -- they're here in minutes. They're very responsive and outstanding to work with."

The feeling goes both ways. The Times security services department has been very successful in stopping crime in its immediate vicinity and catches an average of two felons a week. This activity helps both security forces do their job.

Nickols believes it all goes back to the security services mission in the first place. "We're here to observe, report, and help. Conveying a sense of security and safety is not enough. We want to provide these elements to our employees and guests. I think we've been successful."

PHOTO : The Los Angeles Times' security services department's newest responsibility is the 26-acre

PHOTO : Olympic Plant. Above is one row of the roll storage room, which stores 30,000 tons of

PHOTO : newsprint.

Joan H. Murphy is associate editor at Security Management.
COPYRIGHT 1990 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Los Angeles Times security
Author:Murphy, Joan H.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Feb 1, 1990
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