The deployment of Security Officers in public spaces – changing the paradigm By J. P. Jordan

For many years I worked as a security officer at a large regional shopping centre. Anyone in security who has ever worked long shifts within a public space environment will have likely experienced the monotony that goes with the job. Fact is, unless you have done it you cannot fully appreciate it. This is probably the case with many long hours routine activity type of jobs.

Having spent many years working as a security officer I eventually moved into management and initially spent my time doing the routine day to day management activities. It is very easy when stepping into security management to go with the status quo, it is comfortable to do so and everyone seems happy, so why change it?. These days, as with any business function, constant improvement should be on one’s mind in regards to security management. Ensuring ROI requires constant review and improvement.

One of my KPI’s as the security manager of a large shopping centre, was based on the visibility of my team. The data was taken from a mystery shopper report as well as exit surveys. Essentially a mystery shopper will visit and assesses the centre on a whole raft of issues such as cleanliness, availability of parking etc. Security was assessed on three questions. These were; did you see an officer in the car park?, did you see an officer in the centre?, was the officer wearing a uniform?. Once these questions were answered the mystery shopper would give a brief statement regarding their interaction with the officer and score them accordingly. The difficulty with this is that if an officer was not seen then the team scored zero. Imagine being a staff member of a department that scores zero on a report that is displayed to all staff month after month – totally demoralising. I knew my team were better than that.

The team went through a period of several months not scoring anything at all, I assumed that the mystery shopper just wasn’t in the right place at the right time; both were missing each other, so to speak. Not correct. I had bigger problems. In speaking with my team of officers to discuss the matter it was clear that morale was low, various issues tabled but the main cause being lone working all day and spending hours patrolling car parks where very little happens on one’s own. Very little variation and being on one’s own all day was clearly taking its toll. One of my team admitted he was spending a lot of the day sat down out of sight because he felt so bored in the job. I could of addressed this by way of a disciplinary penalty, but where does that ever get you? Surely getting to the reason behind it should be the aim. No doubt a point that might reasonably be argued either way but I had been where he was and I understood that feeling of being sent out and left to get on with it all too well.

So I had some team members disenfranchised and it was likely many more of my officers were finding places on-site to see out their day away from the public side of the centre. Sheer boredom was overwhelming them. Many officers joining a shopping centre security team wrongly assume they will be chasing shoplifters all day. That simply isn’t what we were there for. If by some chance one of my team had interacted with a mystery shopper the encounter feedback would likely have been reflective of the mood of my team.

The solution was obvious albeit a little unconventional. My deputy and I quickly realised that the mystery shopper was spending approximately 10 minutes in the centre car park and the remaining 1 hour 30 minutes plus within the centre itself. Our team was deployed mainly in the car parks with only one officer patrolling in the centre. It had always been this way, but did it need to be this way?. Bottom line was that public and centre staff were not seeing our security officers, they were not an effective deterrent as they were not being seen. Imagine your shopping trip to a local mall, you spend a few minutes in the car park but the majority of the time you are in the mall shopping etc. We proposed a new model which would alter the status quo. We deployed all the security within the mall and had one patrolling the car parks (In a vehicle). We also decided to try something new; we decided that we would propose to our client the idea of pairing up officers whilst on shift. Our client was naturally sceptical. Why would they need two bodies in the same space, spread them out and give better coverage. The problem was we were already doing that and it wasn’t working. We managed to convince the client to allow us to trial the deployment model for a few months. The mystery shopper report would be our make or break on this.

Well the results were positive, months one to three we achieved 100% on the report followed by the same for the next nine months. Mission accomplished, it had worked. We had seemingly increased visibility and people’s perception (including centre staff) was that we had more security officers. We had put the resource where it was most effective. We didn’t see any increase in car park related incidents so success was ours. This change of deployment increased levels of motivation amongst the workforce, we saw improved attendance rates and customer (and client) satisfaction in our service delivery was higher than it had previously been.

In my opinion officers treated as adults and afforded the comfort and reassurance that comes with being paired up with a colleague perform better than a team of officers walking around on their own all day. It’s a no-brainer but we took our time seeing it.

In conclusion; as with any change in deployment you must evaluate the likely risks in making that change. I would suggest you be bold in your decision making and consider the alternatives; a change in the officer’s deployment model can reap huge rewards.

J. P. Jordan CSMP MSyI

J. P. Jordan

Jay Jordan is a Certified Security Management Professional (CSMP) and a member of The Security Institute. His career in the industry started in 1999 as a Door Supervisor. Later he worked as a Security Officer, Public Safety Controller and was the Security Manager of The Mall Regional Shopping Centre, South Gloucestershire, for several years. He currently works as a Facilities Manager for North Bristol NHS Trust and is a serving Magistrate