Earlier this month I met up with two of our security guards: Chris Watmough and Paul Lister.
A bit of background: All education institutions have a legal and ethical obligation to create a safe and secure environment. Our College is large (23,000 students) and very diverse. We are based in a busy Northern city, where we deliberately set out to give a wide spectrum of people the opportunity of education, including those for whom life is far from easy. Security has to be a part of what we provide.
I began the interview by asking Paul and Chris how they came to work in security.
Chris started out in the army. On leaving, he worked as a security guard at shopping venues and a university before joining Bradford College about three years ago. Paul was a teaching assistant in a primary school nursery. He decided security would be more interesting, and joined a commercial security company. Like Chris, he’s been with the College for three years.
What came through from our conversation is the underlying importance of regulation and legislation in security, combined with a strong ethos of service and prevention that is in essence an ethical and practical approach adopted by the College, over and above legal requirements – one that is very effective.
Getting on with the students
“I love being here,” Chris says. “It’s the interaction with students and staff.”
Paul agrees: “You’ve got to get on with the students, respect them,” he adds. “We want to show that we are not just uniformed security guards who maybe look intimidating – we are also people, and we want to be approachable.” “So if a student is doing something wrong,” Chris says, “I am polite, I ask them to move on. Students can get over-excited sometimes. If they already know us, it makes it easier to deal with things.”
All the guards spend time talking to students, getting to know them. I see this on a daily basis – our campus is no-smoking, so students (and some staff) cluster at the campus barrier, chatting. It’s a place I regularly go by to get from one building to another, and I often see a security officer there. In such a busy environment they become familiar faces at our various buildings, people you say hello to as you pass. This sense of familiarity is something the team works on deliberately.
Prevention is key
“There’s stuff in place to stop things happening,” Chris says. “There are a few students who staff know may cause a problem, so they get one to one input from the Learning Support Team and others.”
“Everyone has a chance at College,” Paul explains “That’s really important and we security guards are here to help the College to include all the students. If someone repeatedly causes a disturbance or breaks the rules, they get a formal warning, and management steps in. There are systems in place to keep the College safe and help students stay on track.”
All students sign up to a charter on joining the College, which sets out what is expected of them in terms of behaviour. This is reinforced by tutors and lecturers, and by information around the College.
The security role
The guards are involved in prevention, monitoring, dealing with incidents, liaising with the police, fire brigade and other external agencies, and follow up: finding out exactly what happened at an event, whether a situation was fully resolved, record keeping, identifying ways of avoiding repeat occurrences.
They all carry radios while on duty, and while they can phone the head of security at any time, there are times when they have to make on the spot decisions on their own.
The most common events are minor incidents among students, accidents, and occasional false fire alarms. I ask them how they know if a student is doing something wrong. Sometimes staff or students alert them to something, other times its direct observation:
“Its weird how that happens,” Chris says. “You look at a crowd, and you can tell that something is not right. Maybe something you catch out of the corner of your eye. Or else it’s noisy, there’s shouting from somewhere.” “Too many energy drinks,” says Paul. “For some reason something usually happens on a Friday afternoon when the campus is relatively quiet – young people getting ready for the weekend and going out.”
The use of CCTV
There are CCTV cameras across the College, and I ask if this is an ethical issue. Both guards are very clear that the benefits CCTV brings in helping create a safe environment make it both necessary and an asset.
“CCTV is very good for us,” says Paul. “It’s prevention, because the students know it’s there. Sometimes they talk to us about it, they’ll point out a new camera to us. So it stops things happening, and it helps us catch perpetrators.” Chris gives an example: “We get occasional problems with students setting off fire alarms. The last time that happened the man was wearing a hoodie so we couldn’t see his face. But he then walked downstairs and took off his hood in front of another camera, so we could identify him.”
“We also get useful data from the barriers,” Paul adds, “because if we are concerned about someone, we can see if they have swiped in or out. We can use CCTV and the swiping to find people track their movements if necessary.”
They explain that the council has three CCTV cameras out on the busy road that runs pas the College and University, but that these are separate. “The College CCTV is specific to the College,” Paul says. “Unless it is needed as evidence in particular situations, such as crime being committed.”
“Working with the under 18s, whether they are victims or when they are behaving in someway that’s causing trouble, is always a challenge,” says Chris. “And with vulnerable adults. In these situations, we involve one of the College’s safeguarding officers.” Safeguarding officers are staff from different parts of the College who are trained in responding to safeguarding issues that affect under 18s and vulnerable adults.
“Some students confide in us about issues at home, abuse, stuff you take home with you at night and think about,” Paul says. Chris agrees: “I do that as well: at home, I think about how I’ve handled situations during the day, did I do it correctly…”
“There is one case I still think about,” says Paul. “A young woman living with a man, suffering domestic abuse, and she came to me for help and advice. With her agreement, I arranged for the police to be involved, and I went to court to be a witness. The young woman never appeared at court and the trial collapsed, but we think she wanted it reported so she could escape. He had her passport, and the police made him return it. We think she moved north to be with family. I still think about it and wonder how she is.”
Team set up
Paul and Chris explained that there are 26 security guards at the College, split over two shifts, providing round the clock security, seven days a week. There’s an overlap between the two shifts, to allow for handover.
On each shift there are patrol officers with individual duties. The mobile guard drives the College security car wherever its needed (the College has buildings spread out several miles from the main campus) as well as providing a high visability presence to outer campus. There’s also an in /out officer and an ‘in man’ who cover the main college campus buildings.
Westbrook is our busiest building, and it has a dedicated security guard all day. There’s a small CCTV monitoring team based at the Grove Library, and there’s an admin office where administrators keep records and deal with lost property and other issues. The security guards have their own common room. They work closely with the College porters, who are responsible for locking up.
The team includes people from different ethnic background and of different ages – Chris and Paul, for instance, are both in their early 20s, while others have been with the College for more than 30 years. “It’s because this is a great job,” Paul says. “Once you join the College security team, you don’t want to leave.” However, there are no women on the team at present. “There’ve been women security officers in the past,” Chris comments. “It would be very good to have more.”
To finish: training and licensing
“There’s no particular training or qualification for being a security guard,” Paul says. “Some employers give you training, and we are all qualified in first aid. The important thing is to have the SIA licence, and you have to renew it every three years.” The College provides regular in-house training to security staff, on topics such as first aid, handling aggression, customer service and emergency evacuation.
This last bit is fairly technical, but of interest because it sets the wider ethical context.
The Security Industry Authority is the regulatory body for the industry, reporting to the Home Office. It is responsible for the compulsory licensing of individuals working in specific sectors of the private security industry – SIA ensures that private security operatives are ‘fit and proper’ persons. It involves a Criminal Records Bureau and other background checks.
SIA’s role is prescribed by legislation, in particular by the Private Security Industry Act 2001 which defines security roles (such as ‘guarding cash and valuables in transit’, ‘door supervision’, ‘immobilizing and removing vehicles’ etc). There’s no ethics code, probably because the area is covered by considerable legislation, though there is a code for regulatory bodies in general.
All our security guards are licensed by the Security Industry Authority, and carry their licences with them at all times.