With Campus Security Officers, You Get What You Pay For

Wages for nonsworn campus security officers have not kept up with inflation over the past three years and could have disastrous consequences for hospitals, schools and universities.

With Campus Security Officers, You Get What You Pay For

Nonsworn campus security officers have also seen a decline in benefits and incentives.

After crunching the numbers for the Campus Safety 2018 Salary and Benefits Study, it appears as though many healthcare and educational campuses have forgotten the adage “You get what you pay for” when it comes to the salaries of their nonsworn security and public safety officers.

The starting pay rate for these employees has not kept up with inflation. Although since 2015, sworn officer and campus police chief/security director salaries have increased by 13 percent and nearly seven percent, respectively, the starting median income for nonsworn officers remains the same at $27,500, or $13.75 an hour. Additionally, they have experienced a decline in the benefits and incentives they receive.

When adjusting for the U.S. inflation rate, which is projected to be 5.8 percent for 2016-2018, hospitals, schools and universities are actually paying their novice nonsworn officers less than they did in 2015. Their pay rate looks even worse if you believe economists who say the inflation rate will be more now that our nation has imposed tariffs on China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

Various organizations, such as the Renaissance Macro Research and Bureau of Labor Statistics, report that the prices of consumer goods like tools, computers, housing, washing machines, cars, food and more have already risen. It’s clear that nonsworn campus officers are not reaping the benefits of our current economic boom.

How can campuses expect to recruit and retain qualified and motivated nonsworn officers when they pay them a pittance and cut their benefits?

I doubt I have to remind any of you that most campus nonsworn security and public safety officers do a heck of a lot more than just sit in a guard shack and eat donuts. These officers must be skilled at or at least have a good understanding of things like verbal de-escalation, emergency preparedness, active shooter response, customer service, community policing, implicit bias, the Clery Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), CPR, first aid, AEDs and more. Additionally, the public’s expectations of these officers are constantly changing and expanding.

Let’s also remember that nonsworn officers are responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s most precious and vulnerable individuals: its children, as well as its sick and injured. How can we expect anyone to properly protect these populations when we don’t pay them a living wage? This issue becomes even more problematic in an economy that is experiencing full employment.

Truth be told, you get what you pay for. Those campuses that continue to pay their nonsworn officers a subsistence wage should expect subpar performance from these employees. If a campus is lucky enough to recruit a great officer, you can expect he or she will soon leave for greener, better-paying pastures.

And what if your campus experiences an active shooter attack or some other nightmare scenario requiring your nonsworn officers to respond effectively? If they don’t because your institution hasn’t paid them enough and deaths or injuries occur as a result, your campus could increase its exposure to litigation, have a massive PR debacle on its hands and, most importantly, devastate your community to such an extent that it might never recover.

Nonsworn officers are a critical component of any campus security and public safety program. Pay them well now, or pay a much, much steeper price later when something goes wrong.

CORRECTION: The original version of this article had a typo in the “Median nonsworn officer starting pay by U.S. region” chart. The original chart indicated nonsworn officers in the West received the highest starting salaries. That was incorrect. Nonsworn officers in the Northeast are paid the highest at $32,500. 

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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2 responses to “With Campus Security Officers, You Get What You Pay For”

  1. I am the Public Safety Training & Education Coordinator for the largest Healthcare system in CT.
    I am responsible for the training certifications for almost 250 Public Safety officers from our eight hospitals.
    I train them in MOAB, CPI, ALICE Active Shooter Response, Verbal De-escalation, Handcuffing, & Pepper Spray (we are not armed).
    They have an incredible array of tasks and responsibilities they have to perform on a daily basis, often times going ‘hands on’ for aggressive patients and or visitors.
    Starting pay for our dept. is approx. $14.00 an hour for first shift, and slightly higher with shift differential for 2nd & 3rd shift.
    Your article is 100% accurate in its explanation of “you get what you pay for”.
    Last year alone, we had 17 officers leave for ‘Greener Pastures’, good officers that we were all sorry to see leave.
    They were all younger, very talented, with a degree in criminal justice, and anyone could see the writing on the wall, that with their age, and education, they were only using our dept. as a stepping stone to move on to a much higher paying Law Enforcement job.
    We are trying to move towards a younger age demographic for our department, because we currently have a majority of our officers who have gotten up their in age, the older officers we do hire, are all retired from other types of Law Enforcement jobs, so for them, it’s supplemental income.
    In my opinion, you cannot obtain a younger force with our current starting wage, and as you stated in your article, our benefits have also decreased on an annual basis.
    I am retired Law Enforcement, so for me, this too, is a supplemental income, great article

  2. Timothy J. Reynolds, Director of Campus Safety. says:

    Not a truer word spoken. The Administration keeps piling on more and more responsibilities for a maladjusted wage with few, if any, benefits or more co-pay costs. Bark at a shift differential for evening shift and overnight shift, but they don’t work evenings, overnights, weekends or holidays. A great Administrator is one that visits with the officers on ALL shifts and understands the pains of working 24/7.
    Having worked my way up the Chain of Command, I have not forgotten where I came from, and try to incorporate the human side in the scheduling. Adjusting for family needs garners a high level of respect amongst my workers. I never give them a job chore that I can’t do myself. I adamantly insist on them calling me if they are unsure of a situation, so we can share the facts and agree on a solution.

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