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What image should we project.

TWO ARTICLES FROM THE March 1991 Security Management, "Are Security Officers Any Different?" by David R. Stratton, CPP, and "Dressing for Success" by Larry R. Blumenfeld, present cogent yet divergent views about security attire. Blumenfeld and Stratton air the age-old anxieties a professional encounters regarding security's role, mission, and dress code.

This dichotomy represented by Blemenfeld's and Stratton's views on security attire has beleaguered security professionals, filled journal pages, and been the topic of national seminars throughout my two careers.

The authors refer to the many security attire options. Some managers prefer a uniform that does not look like a uniform. This might be a blazer and slacks, with or without a distinctive badge, decal, or insignia. While less common now, the old door-rattling night watchman who carries a flashlight, radio, and large ring of keys lingers on. Blumenfield points out that the nontraditional "style is friendly, inviting, and less intimidating than the traditional uniform."

Stratton suggests, in effect, that uniforms serve no useful purpose. He says he "could not think of a business reason why an employee needed to tell from a distance that another employee was a security guard."

To the contrary, the uniform can be a vital weapon in the security manager's arsenal. Uniforms that are properly presented and worn with respect can diffuse many potential problems. Security officers may deter violence just by the presence of their uniforms.

However, when the style is inappropriate to the situation, attire may not enhance security or the company's image. Uniforms may induce chaos and become a public relations nightmare.

Wearing a security uniform home from work can be a double-edged sword. For instance, it can be an effective public relations asset when an unfortunate incident occurs. The public expects people in a security unfirom to restore order, and inaction frequently creates bigger headlines than action.

Some states have created Good Samaritan laws that protect those persons involving themselves (in good faith) in another's problems. However, insurance companies and plaintiffs' attorneys are quick to look for a deep pocket or third party to share the blame in an emergency.

If security personnel are not trained to provide first aid or to respond in an emergency, perhaps the lack of a uniform is a blessing in disguise. Since they aren't wearing a uniform, they won't tarnish the reputation of the hiring agency by an incorrect response or, possibly worse, inaction.

In response to Stratton's view that employees need not recognize security personnel, I give the following security department mission statement, which is a culmination of statements I have reviewed over the years: "Assist the various populations served, be alert for the irregular, and enforce rules as indicated. Notify police, fire, or other emergency services as necessary, and notify management in the case of a security-related incident."

Situations may not escalate if response is rapid. However, a security officer cannot be in all places at all times. If the officer is easily recognized as an officer, then the community can notify him or her more quickly, thus speeding the response.

If there is no reason for an employee to recognize security officers, why have them? Whom do security officers serve if they are not easily identified by the work force--the very community they are be expected to serve? If inconspicuous, do security officers serve as deterrents to uninvited guests or dishonest employees?

EXPERIENCE SUGGESTS THAT WHEN someone has a problem and does not know whom to call, he or she calls a security person. We can all relate to stories of a police officer or firefighter rescuing a kitten from a tree.

When I was in university security, the campus police were frequently called when a toilet overflowed or a building lost power. Security personnel were not expected to fix it, but people knew the emergency crews would be notified and the problem remedied.

A security department must enjoy the support and confidence of the populations it secures or it will fail in its objective. As Stratton writes, security may risk "being stereotyped by the public as being incapable." He seems to blame the image problem on the uniform rather than poor performance.

While it is important that the security force project the company's image, Blumenfeld reminds us to ensure that the work force "not mistake to security reprsentatives as police officers." Again, the appearance and demeanor of the security element can contribute to the corporate image.

Frequently a visitor's first impression of the organization is the security person. The department should transmit the message "May I help you?" as opposed to "I'm gonna get you!" These impressions last and can make a positive contribution to the company's bottom line.

If the experiences with security are positive, employees will arrive at work with productive spirits instead of complaining to coworkers about the gate sentry or parking attendant. Customers and clients will be relaxed and directed to their destinations, and contractors and other visitors will respect rules and take care of property.

No one enjoys being told what to do, or worse, what not to do. Herein lies the root of image problems. People remember bad experiences longer than good experiences. Management involvement can help overcome negative vibes. Management should highlight the security officers' positive actions for community members in public forums, in-house press, and other community media.

Perhaps the most awesome and threatening power a security person has is the authority to restrict another person's freedom of movement. This authority requires not only in-depth familiarity with the rules but also tact, diplomacy, discretion, and an unusually strong will.

The uniform introduces the wearer as a representative of management charged with enforcement responsibilities. When the authority is exercised with discretion, it increases the opportunity for dialogue as opposed to confrontation. Dialogue can be the difference between a successful security encounter and another boring security report, coverage on the 6:00 pm news, tomorrow's gruesome headlines, or a call from the insurance company or the plaintiff's attorney.

If management believes in security's function and provides the fiscal, motivational, and policy support required, a well-trained, high-profile (that is, uniformed) security department can contribute positively. Security can improve the corporate image, and subsequently the bottom line, while providing a safer, more comfortable place to work, visit, and conduct business.

Blessed is he who can keep his head when all those about are losing theirs. Such is the life of the successful security professional.

Jerry E. Hudson, CPP, CFE (certified fraud examiner), was the former director of public safety for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is a retired major with the US Marine Corps and a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Hudson, Jerry E.
Publication:Security Management
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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