The Power of Command Posture for Security Guards

In the ever-evolving landscape of security, the role of a security guard extends far beyond mere physical presence. Beyond the uniform and equipment lies a powerful tool that can be wielded to deter crime and keep order: the command posture. This seemingly simple yet profound aspect of a security guard’s demeanor serves as both a psychological shield and repellant, offering protection against potential threats while simultaneously deterring criminal behavior.

Defined as the projection of confidence, authority, and control through body language, tone of voice, and demeanor, the command posture acts as a psychological shield for security guards. When confronted with a threat or potential attack, a security guard with a strong command posture exudes an aura of self-assurance and readiness, creating a psychological barrier that can dissuade criminals from trying to exploit vulnerabilities or escalate confrontations. In this sense, the command posture serves as a shield, bolstering the guard’s resilience and protecting against physical harm or abuse.

Moreover, the command posture also functions as a psychological repellant, preemptively discouraging criminal activity in the presence of a vigilant security guard. Criminals are often opportunistic, seeking targets that appear vulnerable or easily intimidated. A security guard who maintains a strong command posture projects an image of authority and competence, signaling to would-be perpetrators that their illicit actions will not go unnoticed or unchallenged. As a result, the mere presence of a security guard with a commanding demeanor can act as a powerful deterrent, dissuading criminals from committing crimes within the vicinity.

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In essence, the command posture serves as both a shield and a repellant, offering security guards a formidable defense against potential threats while simultaneously discouraging criminal behavior. By harnessing the power of their presence and projecting confidence and authority, security guards can create a safer and more secure environment for themselves and those under their protection. Table 1 compares what a prototypical perpetrator might perceive when seeing a security guard or officer with weak command posture and presence versus one with strong command posture and presence across dimensions such as physical appearance, verbal communication, body language, response to challenges, and overall impression. Table 1 clearly illustrates why security guards need to be recruited, screened, trained, and managed with command posture in mind.

Enhancing Organizational Safety Through Strong Command Posture

The adoption of a strong command posture by security guards plays a pivotal role in bolstering the psychological safety and security of both employees and customers within an organization. This authoritative stance is not merely about the physical presence of the guards but also encompasses their demeanor, the confidence they exude, and their visible readiness to address potential security issues. Such a posture communicates a clear message of vigilance and deterrence, contributing to a secure environment where employees and customers feel protected. The psychological impact of seeing security personnel who are alert, engaged, and prepared cannot be overstated. It instills a sense of reassurance among employees and customers, fostering a safer and more conducive atmosphere for daily operations and interactions.

Moreover, a strong command posture directly influences the perception of an organization’s commitment to safety and security. When security guards display professionalism through their posture and actions, it reinforces the organization’s values and dedication to maintaining a secure environment. This visible commitment to security measures enhances trust among stakeholders, making employees more likely to report suspicious activities and customers more confident in their choice to engage with the business. The resulting psychological safety net encourages a culture of openness and vigilance, where the collective well-being is prioritized, and security is seen as a shared responsibility. Ultimately, the strong command posture of security guards not only deters potential threats but also solidifies a foundation of trust and safety that permeates the entire organization.

Key Psychological Traits Required of Security Guards

What are the key psychological traits and competencies that the US Department of Labor’s O*NET system requires for the security guard position? O*NET (Occupational Information Network) is an online database that provides information about various occupations, including security guards and officers. O*NET outlines key traits, skills, and abilities that are important for success in various occupational roles. Based on the information available, Table 2 summarizes the key psychological traits and competencies that are relevant for strong security guards and officers.

These traits and competencies contribute to the effectiveness and professionalism of security guards and officers in supporting safety and security in various settings. While O*NET may not explicitly list these traits as absolute requirements, they are commonly recognized as important qualities for individuals working in security roles.

Academic Research Supporting Command Posture

Dr. Philip Zimbardo, a renowned psychologist known for his Stanford prison experiment and his work on the psychology of authority and obedience, has researched the importance of command posture in security guards and officers. In an interview discussing the role of authority figures in keeping order and preventing violence, Dr. Zimbardo emphasized the significance of nonverbal cues, including posture, in conveying power and authority.

He stated: “Security guards and officers who exhibit a strong command posture send a clear message to potential troublemakers that they control the situation. By standing tall, maintaining direct eye contact, and projecting confidence through their body language, these individuals establish themselves as authoritative figures, effectively deterring potential threats before they escalate.”

Dr. Zimbardo’s insights highlight the psychological impact of command posture in security settings and underscore its role in supporting order and preventing violence. By understanding the power of nonverbal communication, security professionals can enhance their effectiveness in managing challenging situations and ensuring the safety and security of the environments they protect.

Understanding the Command Posture Construct

A robust definition of a strong command posture for security guards and officers in a retail store context is as follows:

  • A strong command posture refers to the deliberate and authoritative stance, demeanor, and behavior adopted by security guards and officers to assert control, instill confidence, and deter potential criminals within a retail environment.
  • This posture encompasses both physical and psychological elements, including body language, vocal tone, and situational awareness.

Physically, security guards and officers with a strong command posture stand tall, with shoulders squared and back, projecting confidence and readiness to take action. They maintain direct eye contact with individuals, conveying assertiveness, and establishing a clear line of communication. Their movements are purposeful and deliberate, indicating vigilance and a proactive approach to security.

Psychologically, security guards and officers with a strong command posture exhibit unwavering confidence in their abilities and authority. They remain calm and composed under pressure, demonstrating resilience and the ability to manage challenging situations effectively. Their demeanor exudes professionalism, integrity, and a commitment to upholding safety and security standards within the retail store environment.

In addition to their physical presence, security guards and officers with a strong command posture maintain a high level of situational awareness, continuously scanning their surroundings for potential threats or suspicious activities. They are proactive in identifying and addressing security vulnerabilities, implementing preventive measures, and coordinating with colleagues and store management to ensure a cohesive and comprehensive security strategy.

Overall, a strong command posture enables security guards and officers to assert control, deter potential criminals, and maintain a safe and secure environment within a retail store setting. By embodying confidence, professionalism, and vigilance, security personnel can effectively repel threats and protect both the premises and the individuals within it.

In summary, a security guard with strong command posture who moves toward a strong presence with potential perpetrators is more likely to deter criminal activity and maintain control of the situation. In contrast, a security guard with weak command posture who moves away from a strong presence with perpetrators may inadvertently invite trouble and struggle to maintain security effectively.

Factors Contributing to a Strong Command Posture

It is also important to understand those factors that contribute to a strong commend posture. The factors in Table 3 collectively contribute to the psychological aspects of a strong command posture and presence for security guards and officers. By cultivating these attitudes, emotions, behaviors, and social skills, security personnel can enhance their effectiveness in maintaining safety and security within their assigned areas of responsibility.

Secret Shopper Study on Command Posture

To conduct an exploratory needs analysis for the “command posture” construct in the Chicagoland area, a total of 103 secret shopper observations were made with security guards and officers while they were on the job. These were five-to ten-minute observations that were conducted by a psychologist or comparable professional. A short diary was compiled on each research subject. The observed security personnel were from a wide variety of retail stores, drug stores and pharmacies, grocery stores and restaurants, and healthcare facilities.

To effectively organize the observed behaviors, attitudes, emotions, and overall presence exhibited by security guards, they were classified into one of three different categories: (1) Weak Command Presence, (2) Neutral Command Presence, and (3) Strong Command Presence. This categorization helped to better summarize the security guards’ professional demeanor and the potential impact on their perceived authority and effectiveness. The entries that were used and rated were actually observed in this study, and they are listed below for each of the three categories:

Weak Command Presence:

  • Not Visible on Shift: Lack of physical presence on the job site.
  • Improper Attire: Attire not conforming to established uniform standards.
  • Engaging in On-the-Job Harassment: Inappropriate interactions with others while on duty.
  • Looking Tired and Distracted: Exhibiting signs of fatigue and lack of focus.
  • Ineffective Attention and Eye Contact: Failing to maintain vigilant observation and direct engagement.
  • On the Phone Texting or Watching a Movie: Engaging in personal activities unrelated to job responsibilities.
  • Smoking, Vaping, Eating, or Drinking on Shift: Partaking in activities that distract from duty.
  • Leaning Against the Wall or Sitting on the Job: Adopting a physically unengaged posture.
  • Leaving Security Car Unattended: Neglecting assigned equipment or vehicle.
  • Parking Illegally: Demonstrating disregard for legal and organizational rules.
  • Yelling at Customers: Employing inappropriate and aggressive communication.
  • Seemingly Hiding from Customers: Avoiding interaction with or observation by others.
  • Excessive Breaks: Taking more breaks than policy or necessity dictates.
  • Reckless Driving: Operating vehicles in a dangerous manner.
  • Unkempt Hair and Grooming: Neglecting personal appearance and hygiene standards.
  • No Security Markings: Failing to display identifiable security insignia or equipment.
  • Gossiping with Employees or Customers: Engaging in unprofessional conversations.
  • Flirting and Socializing: Prioritizing personal interactions over security responsibilities.
  • Weak Posture: Displaying a stance that lacks authority and vigilance.
  • Wearing EarPods or Backwards Hat, or Dancing on Shift: Engaging in behaviors that undermine professional image.

Neutral Command Presence:

  • Looking Organized or Disorganized: The state of personal and professional materials appearing orderly or not.
  • Leaving Security Car Unattended (for a Brief and Justified Moment): Temporarily leaving equipment unattended for operational reasons.
  • Eating or Drinking on Shift (Discreetly and During Appropriate Times): Consuming food or beverages in a manner that does not detract from duty.
  • Too Much Laughing on Post (Does Not Interfere with Job Performance): Displaying a light‑hearted demeanor that does not compromise security responsibilities.
  • Seemed Busy: Being actively engaged in tasks, potentially at the cost of broader awareness.
  • Relaxing on the Shift (During Designated Break Times): Taking sanctioned breaks for rest and recuperation.

Strong Command Presence:

  • Proper Attire: Adhering to uniform standards and presenting a professional appearance.
  • Not on Cell Phone: Focusing on job responsibilities without personal distractions.
  • Energized and Alert: Demonstrating vigilance and readiness to respond.
  • Effective Attention and Eye Contact: Maintaining awareness and engaging appropriately with others.
  • Strong Command Posture: Exhibiting a stance that conveys authority and competence.
  • Making Rounds: Actively patrolling and monitoring assigned areas.
  • Strategically Placed Post: Positioning oneself in a manner that optimizes surveillance and interaction.
  • Courteous and Service-Oriented: Demonstrating professionalism and a commitment to assist.
  • No-Nonsense Face: Presenting a demeanor that reflects seriousness and dedication to duty.
  • Assertive Communications: Employing clear, direct, and respectful interaction methods.
  • Aware When Surveilling: Demonstrating focused observation and situational awareness.
  • Armed (if Applicable and Authorized): Appropriately equipped for security responsibilities.
  • Badge Present: Clearly displaying identification and authority symbols.
  • Prevented Entry: Actively preventing unauthorized access to secure areas.

These categorizations serve to highlight the range of behaviors observed and their implications for professional conduct and effectiveness in security roles. Results showed that fifty-seven guards (55.3%) received a “weak” command posture rating, fourteen (13.6%) received a “neutral” command posture rating, and thirty-two (31.1%) received a “strong” command posture rating. The aforementioned listing of weak command presence behaviors needs to be reduced through better selection, training, and management. A clear need exists to strengthen this type of psychological presence to strengthen the guard’s on-the-job performance and contribution to a safe workplace culture.

Police Officers as Security Guards

When contemplating security personnel with a strong command presence, police officers are oftentimes considered for off‑duty security guard placements because they have experience in law enforcement and are trained in tactics and procedures that can be useful in the security industry. However, it is important to note that being a police officer and a security guard requires different skill sets and approaches to security. Private companies or individuals typically hire police officers to work as off-duty security guards to provide additional security at events or in high‑risk areas (e.g., pharmacies). In this role, police officers can use their experience and training to identify potential threats, maintain order, and respond to incidents.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that off-duty police officers working as security guards are not authorized to use police powers, such as making arrests or carrying firearms, unless they are specifically authorized to do so by the agency that employs them. In addition, police officers may have limited availability and the number of hours they can work as off-duty security guards due to their primary job duties and department policies.

Ultimately, whether a police officer is a good security guard depends on their individual skills, training, and experience, as well as the specific needs and requirements of the job. Police officers have specialized training and experience that can make them better suited for certain aspects of security in a retail store compared to regular security guards. Here are some examples:

  1. Response to Criminal Activity: Police officers are trained to respond to criminal activity, such as theft or violence, and have the authority to make arrests. They also have access to police databases and resources that can help them identify suspects and investigate crimes.
  2. Investigation of Crimes: Police officers are trained in investigative techniques and can collect evidence, interview witnesses, and create reports that can be used in court.
  3. Use of Force: Police officers are trained in the use of force and can use it when necessary to protect themselves or others. Other security guards may not have the same level of training or authority to use force.
  4. Crowd Control: Police officers are trained in crowd control techniques and can handle large groups of people during events or emergencies.
  5. Legal Expertise: Police officers are knowledgeable about criminal law and can provide guidance on legal issues related to security in a retail store, such as how to handle shoplifting or trespassing.

It’s important to note that regular security guards can also play a valuable role in retail store security by monitoring cameras, patrolling the premises, and deterring criminal activity. Ultimately, the best approach to retail store security may involve a combination of police officers and regular security guards, depending on the specific needs and risks of the store. The decision to hire a regular security guard versus a police officer as a security guard will depend on the specific needs and requirements of the situation.

When to Hire a Regular Security Guard:

  1. Lower-Risk Situations: Regular security guards are often sufficient for lower-risk situations, such as monitoring a residential building, a retail store, or an office building.
  2. Limited Authority: Regular security guards do not have the same authority as police officers and are not authorized to carry firearms or make arrests in most situations. They may not be the best choice for situations where the use of force or detention of individuals is necessary.
  3. Limited Budget: Regular security guards are generally less expensive to hire than police officers, making them a more cost-effective option for organizations with limited budgets.

When to Hire a Police Officer as a Security Guard:

  1. High-Risk Situations: Police officers are often better suited for high-risk situations, such as large events, crowded areas, or situations where there is a high risk of violence or criminal activity.
  2. Specialized Training: Police officers receive specialized training in areas such as crowd control, use of force, and emergency response, which can make them better equipped to handle certain security situations.
  3. Legal Authority: Police officers have the legal authority to make arrests and carry firearms, which may be necessary in certain security situations.
  4. High-Profile Events: Police officers may be better suited for high-profile events, where their presence can provide a visible deterrent to criminal activity and reassure the public.

Ultimately, the decision to hire a regular security guard or a police officer as a security guard should be based on a careful assessment of the specific needs and risks of the situation, as well as the available budget and resources. Police officers can demonstrate a strong command posture by projecting confidence, authority, and professionalism through their body language, tone of voice, and demeanor. This can help them maintain control of a situation and effectively communicate their message.

A supplemental analysis was conducted using the secret shopper data set that compared police officers (N = 32) who were serving as security guards to regular security officers (N = 71). Although the hypothesis would be that the police officers would show a more powerful command posture, there were actually no significant differences in their pattern of results. That is, 59.4 percent of the police officers exhibited weak command posture, while 53.5 percent of the regular security officers exhibited weak command posture. Similarly, in terms of strong command presence, 25 percent of the police officers serving as security guards exhibited strong presence, while 33.8 percent of the regular security guards exhibited strong presence. The rest across both groups received neutral ratings. Many of the police officers seemed tired, distracted by their cell phones, and less engaged in terms of presenting a strong command posture.


A security guard’s level of command posture clearly can serve as both a psychological guard and repellant in relation to criminal perpetrators. A strong command posture also contributes to a feeling of safety and security among employees and customers. Yet various psychological factors impact a guard’s command posture and presence, which can lead to either a weak, neutral, or strong command presence. The loss prevention community must ensure that the security guards they deploy are properly screened, trained, managed, and coached to exhibit the ideal command posture at all times. The secret shopper study presented in this brief clearly points out that a wide variety of regular security guards and security officers with a police background must focus more on portraying a strong command posture. That is, the professional community should expect this type of presence from all security guard hires as part of their efforts to create a culture of workplace safety for all.

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