by William F. Blake, CPP, CFE

Property owners face a significant potential liability problem every time someone steps onto their property. Well-trained, motivated security officers can help create a safe environment that reduces the potential for tort liability and improves business and public relations, resulting in increased corporate profits.

 In a recent study, Norman D. Bates of Liability Consultants, Inc., found that premises liability tort filings have increased over 260 percent in the last ten years. During this same period, the average negotiated settlement was more than $545,000; moreover, the average jury award was $3.35 million.

 End users of contract guard services may be overlooking the value of security when measured against the outcome of a successful lawsuit. Security officers should be sufficient in number and adequately trained to provide the appropriate professional response, defined as the action expected by a reasonable individual considering the totality of existing circumstances.

 Many courts have rejected the argument that personal safety and security are solely police functions. In cases such as Butler v. Acme Market (New Jersey, 1982) and Dupree v. Piggly Wiggly Shop Rite Foods, inc., (Texas, 1976) courts found that merchants have a duty to provide adequate protection to their customers and that duty cannot be transferred to a third party. In the past, the employer of an independent contractor had not been held liable for the negligence of the contractor or its employees, but in these cases the courts decided that the stores could not escape liability by delegating security to an independent contractor.

 Many companies that enter into price-driven contract security agreements mistakenly believe that they are reducing or eliminating their liability for providing security. Many managers also think that general liability insurance covers civil action awards. But some states do no allow insurance companies to pay the punitive damages levied against the insured. The landmark decision of Northwestern National Casualty Co. v. McNulty (Federal Court of Appeals, 1962) held that allowing an insurance company to pay for punitive damages would run counter to the twin objectives of punishment and deterrence. This ruling gave significance to the employment of adequately selected and trained security officers.

 Standards. Who is responsible for setting standards for security officer performance? Traditionally, company management has relinquished that responsibility to the service provider. Allowing a security services provider to define adequate performance is tantamount to allowing employees to set their own performance standards and write their own evaluations. It is management's responsibility to participate in setting minimum performance standards and to continually evaluate contractor compliance.

 To create and implement standards, management and the service provider must work together, first by identifying the realistic level of security needed. Legal requirements, the unique problems affecting the property, the effect of security restrictions on patrons, and cost constraints must be considered.

 Each member of the security force must be physically capable of accomplishing all of the identified tasks of his or her position. The standards must be realistic so as not to conflict with laws concerning employment discrimination. For example, a requirement to run one mile in five minutes would clearly not be justifiable for a security officer whose main responsibility is to watch CCTV monitors.

 Qualifications can be identified as applicable to normal or emergency situations. Normal performance qualifications could include standing or walking for an entire shift, climbing stairs and ladders, and lifting or carrying objects weighing up to fifty pounds. In an emergency, the security officer could be required to help lift or transport up to 200 pounds or run short distances.

 The candidate's level of physical fitness should be confirmed by a medical examination conducted within ninety days prior to the individual's assignment to the security force. Recertification of physical fitness qualifications should be made annually or whenever an individual has been absent from duty because of hospitalization or extended illness. All certifications should be signed by a licensed physician. The certification document should specifically state that the individual meets the identified minimum physical fitness standards for the position.

 Training. All security officers must be adequately trained to perform their duties. Prior to assignment, the security contractor should be required to provide written certification that each officer has been properly trained. This training must be provided by individuals who are legally and professionally qualified to teach the mandated subjects.

 Management must also provide additional security training to meet the requirements of the property in question. This supplemental training could be provided by security managers or contracted out to other qualified parties. But buyers should beware: no universal system exists for measuring the quality or content of instruction. Management must be involved to be certain that proper training is provided.

 Additional training should not be deemed frivolous. To see why, consider the minimum training standard for unarmed security officers in Georgia. The officers are required to have only eight hours of classroom instruction in the basic duties and functions of a security officer. Subjects covered include: legal authority; fire prevention and firefighting control measures; response to crimes in progress; disturbances, disorderly conduct, and miscellaneous incidents; the Georgia Private Detective and Security Agencies Act; and basic first aid.

 Georgia's minimum standards are clearly not adequate as a liability defense. Additional training should include patrol techniques and procedures, visitor and vehicle access control, crime prevention, incident report preparation, physical security equipment inspections, hazardous materials response, company and property policies, fire prevention and suppression, use of force, emergency first-aid procedures, correctly reporting incidents to emergency services, and interpersonal relations designed to meet the requirements of the protected property.

 All security officers should receive a minimum of twenty hours of training semiannually in the mandated and supplemental training subjects. All training should be documented with a report that specifically identifies the subject matter and the length of each training period. The training reports should be signed by the trainer as well as the security officer and retained by the company's security manager.

 Supervision. Appropriate supervision by company management and the service provider is the key to quality control of security force operations. An on-site security supervisor must not be assigned to a stationary security post. The supervisor must circulate freely throughout the property to monitor security measures, evaluate security officer performance, and respond to security incidents.

 The contract with the security service provider should specify that an off-site contractor's representative will visit the property every day. In the absence of an on-site supervisor, an off-site security supervisor should visit the site at least once every eight hours. These randomly timed inspections should include a determination of the security officer's duty performance, compliance with personal appearance standards, equipment serviceability, effectiveness of training, and identification of potential problems. An off-site supervisor's report should be completed and left in a sealed envelope for management.

 Management should also conduct its own periodic inspections of the security force to verify the supervisor's reports. Management inspections create an awareness within the security force that officers are performing an indispensable function and are a valuable corporate asset.

 Whatever the inspection method used by the organization, it should not become so formalized that it inhibits the exchange of information between management and the security force. Security officers have firsthand knowledge of potential problems and valuable ideas for corrective or preventive actions. The autocratic manager destroys this valuable resource and may create apathy toward security and management goals.

 Wages. The cliche is true: you get what you pay for. A security officer paid minimum wages with no benefits may provide, at best, minimum job performance. It must be decided, based on local conditions and wage scales, what level of compensation should be paid to receive the desired performance. Management can set the standards by specifying wage rates for personnel based on their degree of experience and training. Benefit packages should include healthcare and life insurance coverage, sick leave, vacation, pension plans, and additional benefits.

 Established minimum wage scales will help management compare proposals submitted by different vendors. Because a large security company routinely provides employees with a benefits package, its contract bids could be higher than companies that only pay a minimum salary. All proposals, therefore, should be submitted in a standard format, identifying wages, benefits, overhead costs, and profit to facilitate identification of the lowest responsible bidder. A detailed review of each security contractor s proposal should be conducted by management to identify relative costs and services. A goal of the proposal process should be for management to establish a long-term relationship with a provider who will consistently meet management s standards. Frequent changing of service contractors results in low level performance and inadequate security.

 Trust and rapport with company employees are developed by the security officer through continuing contact. This confidence evaporates when new faces constantly appear on the security force. Continuity of officers leads to a comprehensive knowledge of the property's security characteristics and reduces emergency response time.

 Cost savings. The cost of adequate security can be recovered in ways that are often overlooked. The most significant is a reduction in the cost of liability claims by proving that the level of security provided was adequate for the circumstances. While difficult to identify on a profit and loss statement, savings can be measured over a period of time by the reduction of legal expenses.

 Another cost offset can take place in public relations expenses. When there is a feeling of safety, the number of customers increases without requiring additional marketing costs. An increase in property rental rates can also be justified. An innovated management and marketing strategy can provide additional income by emphasizing the positive aspects of the public s right to adequate security.

 Companies using contract guard services must heed the clarion call of the courts, correctly understand their place in a liability lawsuits, and do whatever they can to reduce their liability potential. The cost of providing adequate security can be balanced against the potential cost of civil action losses, drops in customer business, and poor word-of- mouth advertising. By selecting a security provider that fairly compensates its employees to minimize turnover and by working with the provider to ensure that officers are properly trained, management can be confident that long-term benefits will outweigh the costs.

This article was first published in Security Management, January 1996.

 Copyright 1995, William F. Blake, CPP.

 William F. Blake, CPP, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner), is president of Blake and Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 489, Littleton, CO 80160-0489, telephone (303) 683-3327). He has extensive professional experience in investigations in governmental and corporate environments, risk assessment and analysis, and security consulting. Additional security related articles have been published in Security Management (American Society for Industrial Security), Risk Management (Risk and Insurance Management Society), and Journal of Property Management (Institute of Real Estate Management).

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