Security guards are typically responsible for providing the first line of defense against criminal activity in a specific location, like a retail establishment or an office building. Unlike police officers, however, they are privately employed by the owners of the building or complex that they are protecting. Security guards often patrol parking lots for suspicious persons, interrogate persons who have been caught stealing from a retail establishment, and detain those who have committed a crime until local law enforcement can arrive.
The median income for men and women employed as guards in the security industry was $23,460 for 2008. Those who earned in the lowest ten percent earned just over $16,000, while those in the highest ten percent earned $39,360 and higher. The nature of the job and the items or locations being protected was the primary factor in determining the salary of a security guard. Those who guarded against high-ticket items, such as premium jewelry or bank vaults, earned more money as a result of the added risk involved in their job. Those whose jobs were primarily to watch over low-interest office buildings, whose jobs mainly involved monitoring security cameras, earned considerably less.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
The primary objective of a security guard or security officer is to protect the property of their employer, as well as the customers and staff, from potential harm due to criminal activity. They are often the first responder in the event of an incident. In most cases, security officers have the ability to detain those who are suspected of engaging in criminal activity. Although the job function of security guard does not carry with it the authority to arrest someone, off-duty police officers are often hired to serve in this capacity, where their authority as a law enforcement officer can be used.
The specific tasks of a security guard are dependent on the type of business they are being hired to protect. At a theme park, for example, security guards may be asked to inspect the bags and backpacks of theme park customers to ensure no contraband is being brought into the park. Bags of employees may be searched as they exit to ensure no theft is taking place. Mall security guards may be challenged with patrolling the parking lot looking for suspicious behavior or patrons who require assistance. They may also be charged with pursuing people who have stolen something from one of the mall’s stores. Security guards in an office environment may be asked to confirm the identity of employees and visitors to an office in order to ensure that no one is present who doesn’t belong there.
Training and Education Requirements
For most security guard positions, there is no educational requirement beyond that of a high school diploma or GED. There is typically a training program that is conducted by the employer explaining the expectation of the company’s security force, and the steps they are permitted to take in order to satisfy that expectation. Security guards or security officers who are tasked with a wide assortment of responsibilities (such as the theme park or mall security officers discussed previously) may have to undergo more vigorous training than others.
It is also important to note that while most security guard positions do not require that officers be armed, there are some security jobs that do. These are typically higher profile positions where expensive or highly valued commodities are being protected, or where the risk of an armed intruder is greater than normal. In these cases, the training is much more detailed and takes much longer to complete. There may be assessments that are required to ensure the officer is able to handle the responsibility of carrying a firearm.
Most states require that security guards complete a licensing program that assures that they have completed the required training for their job function. Typically, the security guard license candidate must be at least eighteen years old and pass a criminal background check before starting employment. Under most circumstances, a drug test must be passed prior to employment, and many are subject to random drug tests for the duration of their employment. If the job requires the security officer to carry a weapon, they must have the proper licenses and permits to carry that weapon as well. Carrying a firearm may have different permit requirements than a citizen’s permit.
The primary professional association for the security guard profession is the American Society for Individual Security. With over 37,000 members, the ASIS aims to promote the efficiency and necessity of hired security personnel. They provide continuing education and programs to individuals within the security community, and strives to make the general population more aware of the important function that security personnel plays in our daily lives.