Turn on any TV cop show, and inevitably at some point in the program you’ll see a gun battle or two; perhaps a big explosion and a thrilling car chase are thrown in for good measure. By the end of the hour, the good guys catch the bad guys, the hero gets the girl and all is well with the world.
Everyone knows that shows on television don’t represent the reality of traditional policing. This is even truer of campus law enforcement and security, which primarily focuses on community policing and crime prevention.
School, university and hospital officials who understand the role their police and security officers play in supporting their organization’s mission will be better prepared to attract and hire the right officers. Here, eight campus public safety executives describe what they want in a candidate.
Look for the Right Personality Traits
For K-12 and college officials recruiting police and security officers, they must ensure the individuals they hire work well with children and young adults.
“Look at their background,” says Richard Goldstein who is a police officer with the Riverside Community College Police Department and formerly worked as a school resource officer (SRO). “Maybe they have a degree in psychology. Do they have any other experience working with children? It’s about stopping problems, talking with these kids and parents. There are a lot of cops who just don’t have it in their nature to want to be in that environment.”
Considering the clientele that schools, universities and hospitals serve, campuses usually want officers with excellent people skills and judgment, as well as the ability to communicate appropriately and respectfully.
“I’m not looking for a guard,” says Joe Bellino who is Memorial Hermann Health System’s system executive for security and law enforcement. “I’m looking for a professional security officer who has the critical thinking and ability to work under stressful conditions and then provide that high level of customer service. I believe nine times out of 10, if we give excellent customer service and talk to people in a respectful, polite manner and resolve their issues, we avoid conflict.”
Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Police Chief Daniel Dusseau also believes people skills can make or break his department.
“Officers often stress their hard skills, the tactical classes they’ve taken or that they are a breathalyzer operator or radio operator,” he says. “Those things are fine, but we can teach anybody to do those things. I look for life experience — the ability to critically prioritize and articulate why one course of action is better than another.”
Lt. John Degurse, who is NOVA’s commander of administrative services, describes the nuanced decisions that campus officers often must make when dealing with students.
“In many cases, [offi cers] have a decision to make whether they arrest someone or refer them to the dean of students,” he says. “Our role here is not just one of law enforcement, but one of guidance. We help students make good decisions rather than locking everyone up.”
G4S Director of Higher Education John Pack adds that campus security officers in the education sector must be open minded and sensitive to the maturity level of the students they protect.
“[Campus officers] are not your tough-guy security wannabes who want to go out and throw their weight around,” he says. “You are looking for their ability to be a teacher and seize teachable moments, helping students understand what they need to be doing so they can be safer.”
Kevin Quinn, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and an SRO at an Arizona High School says a campus police or security officer must also be proactive rather than reactive, focusing less on arrests and more on prevention.
“The goal is not for me to make a lot of arrests and write a lot of police reports,” he claims. “It’s prevention by dealing with kids, doing presentations in the classrooms, doing crime prevention, doing site surveys and assessments on campus. Your goal is to reduce or eliminate crime; not sit back and wait to catch kids doing bad things.”
Compassion is another trait that is critical, particularly with hospitals, claims Universal Protection Service Regional Recruiter Richard Lopez.