October 17, 2010
Campus security department leaders must know what they want out of their contract security officers and settle for nothing less. By making a clear-cut plan for effectiveness and identifying problems early on, a campus will be successful in hiring and retaining competent, knowledgeable and mature public safety personnel.
Just ask Millikin University’s Safety and Security Department Director John Mickler, whose own experience with contract security at the Decatur, Ill.-located campus has proved to be useful.
“Making [campus security officers] effective begins with the hiring process,” Mickler says. In order to find the right officers for a particular institution, the selection qualifications and requirements must be clearly spelled out in a request for proposal (RFP).
High Turnover Rate Proved Problematic
Prior to Millikin University hiring contract security, it had employed proprietary officers who often were not the right fit for a college campus environment. In an attempt to solve these issues, Mickler decided to investigate what contract security companies could offer.
Initially, he assumed that any contract security officer would be appropriate for his campus, but Mickler soon realized that his new contract security officers were experiencing the same problems as his proprietary ones.
“The mistake I made was not being specific in what I needed for an officer to be effective here,” Mickler says. The school’s first contract security company provided capable officers, but “they did not give us officers that were effective for an institution of higher ed,” he claims.
In order to attract companies that provide what a campus needs, the contract security RFP must be as specific as possible to avoid assumptions and weed out companies that cannot provide the requested services.
After the contract company sent out the first batch of officers, the lack of professional experience and maturity began to show through as many of them were not staying very long. Considering the sheer numbers of students officers had to deal with, most of whom were 18 to 22 years old, many officers left frustrated after only a short time on the job.
“We just constantly were training, and we never had a core group of trained officers to serve our campus community,” Mickler says. Looking back at all of the unfortunate experiences with the first contract security company, Mickler is confident that it did not pay enough attention to what it would take to be successful on a college campus, or specifically Millikin’s campus. “They put an ad in the paper and they hired people that met their criteria to be an XYZ security officer.”
He then decided to try out a new company, G4S, which initially provided officers who were starting to have the same problems as officers from the previous company.
Officers with Appropriate Experience a Must for Millikin
Turning the situation around was a collaborative effort and began when both sides realized that the current plan wasn’t working, Mickler says. “We sat down and this is when G4S said, ‘You need to consider our custom protection officer’ and explained what that was.”
In order to become a G4S custom protection officer (CPO), applicants must meet stringent requirements before passing a comprehensive background investigation. Candidates must also pass a drug screen and have at least one of the following qualifications involving experience or education: military police officer, a career in the military, police academy graduate, corrections officer, federal agency officer, military elite forces, or a degree in criminal justice.
Working with G4S and hiring CPOs has proven to be beneficial, as the department now has 13 contractual staff with a core staff of between eight and 10. Prior to the CPOs’ arrival, a core staff of four was considered to be a good number.
Additionally, Millikin’s new officers are more mature and draw from broader life and professional experiences. “Their presence was better, both in terms of how they carried themselves and how they wore the uniform,” Mickler says.