The number of security guards directly hired by retailers is expected to decline by 2.8 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ occupational outlook. One reason, surely, is that retailers will depend more on technology and less on manpower in the years ahead. Increasing use of contract security retail officers may be another.
Using contract officers may not be any more or less fraught with potential problems than deploying proprietary staff, but it does come with a unique set of challenges.
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One important issue is supervision. Retailers can’t allow reliance on a contract security arrangement to blind them to problem personnel. “Most of the [retail security officers] that I see get in trouble aren’t taught the law, and their supervision is terrible,” says one longtime retail security consultant. “A lot of security lawsuits could be prevented if the supervisor was asking questions and challenging these guys when they screw up.”
His tip? Periodically test retail security guards and their supervisors on the state’s penal code that governs the legal authority for private security forces. “How can you put someone out there who has never heard of the statute that allows them to do what they do and tells them how to do it?”
To avoid potential problems, retailers must also confirm that contract security retail officers are performing their duties as required under the security contract. Frequent audits are important to meet this goal. Retailers should develop and maintain a system for confirming officers’ compliance with post orders.
In this regard, it is helpful to provide instructions on exactly what these inspections should entail. Without a protocol in place, the quality of inspections is likely to vary from store to store and region to region. Some managers may do little more than a uniform check, while others may do a more complete review of guard certifications, knowledge of post orders, uniform and equipment checks, and inspection of timecards.
Finally, a retailer that relies on a contract guard firm may still want to monitor for itself security officers’ training and certifications. Without its own tracking system, a retailer will have to rely solely on security firms’ assurances that officers are maintaining the necessary training, certificates, licenses, and permits during the course of their employment.
That very thing has been found to be problematic in a number of contract security arrangements, including in the US government’s contracts with the more than sixty private security companies that it uses to protect thousands of federal facilities.
Get the Most for Your Money
In addition to avoiding potential problems associated with oversight, retailers may want to examine whether they’re squeezing as much value as possible from their contract security arrangements. A study funded by the British Retail Consortium and conducted by Perpetuity Research suggests four lessons that can help retailers get a larger return for its security retail officer investment.
Lesson #1: Clearly identify the exact rationale for why security officers are in the store. Good risk assessments “rarely” precede the deployment of uniformed retail officers, according to the study’s interviews, surveys, and group discussions with retail security officers and managers at retail and security companies. If retail companies are unclear on exactly why they’re using security officers in a specific store, then it’s nearly impossible for them to tell if officers are delivering value for the money.
Lesson #2: Integrate officers into the security plan; don’t just add them to it. Retail companies shouldn’t—but often do—deploy retail security officers as a sort of adjunct solution to other security measures. In such a deployment, the measures may work side by side but not with one another. To maximize the effectiveness of both, loss prevention should develop strategies that outline how uniformed retail security can most effectively support other strategies, such as store surveillance provided by security video and store associates. As a bonus, interviews with security officers show that taking this step improves their morale.
Lesson #3: To ensure clarity in roles and responsibilities, the plan to deploy officers can’t just reflect needs at the retail company level; it must address the needs, views, and authority of store managers. There is a frequent disconnect between the contract for officers that the corporate LP team signs and what store managers try to get out of them, according to the study. This causes several problems, including confusion among retail security officers about exactly what the store wants from them.
Lesson #4: Assess whether all key players have the core competencies they need, and address any gaps. It’s important for uniformed retail security officers to be well trained to provide maximum value, but store managers also need security training to extract full benefit from officers’ presence. Research shows store managers often have a narrow understanding of what security officers are for and often lack an understanding of how to use them to full advantage. Furthermore, the research shows that retail officers do not always receive enough store-specific training. However, “it is essential that they learn site-specific skills as each retail setting may vary considerably,” the study concludes.
This post was originally published in 2017 and was updated May 31, 2018.