The general sentiment is that the term “guard” is degrading and doesn’t adequately cover the full range of skills possessed by security officers and the roles that they perform. 

The sentiment stems from an ongoing effort to change the overall perception of the security industry—an industry commonly described using words like dinosaur, conservative, bricks and mortar, amongst others. But in order to change the perception of the security industry, the perception of the security officer needs to evolve too.

In the webinar, “What is in a Name: Security Officer or Security Guard,” sponsored by Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International, panelists from the security industry discussed the perception and significance of the name. 

Rollo Davies, managing editor at the UK-based The Professional Security Officer Magazine (TPSO), noted that the media has typically portrayed security guards as tired, lazy, and not very well-educated. Proving Davies’ point, we only have to look at Hollywood’s portrayal of security guards in movies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (apparently, there were 2 of them), and then quickly look away. 

During the discussion, Mike Reddington, Chief Executive of the BSIA, emphasised that the security world is much more diverse and inclusive and the word “guard” is not only archaic but fraught with negative connotations that reflect poorly on the services and skills of modern security officers. So perhaps elevating “guards” to “officers” could potentially help them secure more demanding roles that appreciate their skill sets and capabilities.  

Despite playing key roles during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and the security industry’s ability to rapidly step up and pivot—working in hospitals, testing centers, and supermarkets, safeguarding shuttered business parks and schools, providing physical security at factories and warehouses, and supporting police patrols—the public perception of security guards in the UK is at an all-time low. 

A recent survey, entitled “Perceptions of the Security Officer,” discovered that the public perception of security officers as playing an essential role in the UK was ranked ninth out of 10 in a list of essential services behind postal workers and chemists, and just ahead of traffic wardens, who were ranked 10th. The survey, which was conducted by YouGov on behalf of the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), the Security Institute (SyI), and the Security Commonwealth (SyCom), sought to understand the public perception of security officers and the key issues they face in terms of lack of respect or recognition, and how the public seems to underestimate the critical role they play. 

The survey was part of a campaign called “The Hidden Workforce – Resetting the Perceptions of the Security Officer” which hopes to change the perception of security officers from post-war watchmen to respected and valued security professionals committed to protecting people and property in the communities they serve. 

To do this, however, requires a concerted effort to provide more education and training to security officers in addition to educating the public about the role of the modern security officer. In the not-too-distant past, the only qualification required by a security guard was the ability to stay awake for 12 hours. Today, a private security officer’s role is as much about deterrence and prevention as it is about monitoring computer screens for suspicious activity, performing patrols, scanning checkpoints, ensuring the safety of lone workers… to name just a few of the duties and tasks they perform on a routine basis. 

Technology is another factor in changing the industry’s perception. The pen and paper of the past have been replaced with cloud-based security workforce management software that equips security officers with smartphones and software to enable them to capture and report on incidents in real time. Incident data can then be used by the security company to analyse trends, make improvements, and enhance future service.

Clearly, there is no easy answer to the ongoing debate. While the UK may want to standardise the term “security officer,” it is unlikely that the term will be universally accepted. Some security companies simply don’t want to use the term “security officer” because it might increase the perceived value of the worker and they might have to pay more for the services of an officer rather than a guard. In some countries, the term “officer” is flatly not permitted by law because it might create confusion between security officers and police officers. 

In the United States, according to a security guard licensing website, the term “security guard is used to denote a watchperson who occupies a post or patrols a limited area, but exercises little independent judgement” whereas a “security officer may be used to denote a professional who has a wider range of duties and exercises more independent judgement.” 

There are also regional differences in terminology across the US. In the state of Missouri, for example, security professionals fall into different categories. Security officers have powers that watchmen do not. Missouri also classifies security personnel as “security guards” or “security officers.” A security officer ranks higher than a security guard and may have additional duties like  coordinating security activities. Officers may also be responsible for planning security programs. Meanwhile in California, the distinction between the terms “guard” and “officer” is less clear. Security guards are authorized to work for security agencies whilst security officers provide services directly to businesses.

And so, the debate continues. 

About TrackTik
TrackTik was founded in 2013 and quickly established itself as a market leader with the mission to build better software so its clients can run smarter businesses. TrackTik’s AI-driven technology enables security organisations to connect frontline staff, back office management, and their clients to drive improved operational efficiency and data insights. TrackTik helps security professionals make automated, data-driven decisions with its cloud-based seamless approach to system connectivity. Headquartered in Montreal, Canada, with offices in the United Kingdom and Europe, TrackTik offers four integrated suites of tools – Security Operations for Guarding, Back Office Management, Mobile Patrol and Dispatch, and Business Intelligence & Reporting Analytics, to help security service companies follow the progression of guards, reduce manual tasks, lower costs, and demonstrate value.