Professionalism and Security Matter When Providing Safety Escorts
Managing this service effectively can yield benefits to the public safety department and campus.
Safety escorts are among the most used security services on college and university campuses. Escorting students and other clients safely to their destination — whether it’s a parking lot, residence hall or other buildings on campus — represents a large number of officer/student interactions. As such, they provide a good opportunity for officers to build an image of professionalism and to further the mission of community policing, which depends on cooperation and communication among campus police and security officers and the community they serve. Providing safety escorts enables officers to build one-on-one relationships with clients and that, in turn, promotes good community policing. If poorly managed, safety escorts can undermine an entire department’s credibility, reputation and possibly compromise overall goals.
Proper management of safety escorts is also a factor for campus public safety agencies seeking IACLEA (International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators) accreditation. If the agency is responsible for safety escort services, appropriately documented background checks are required for anyone providing the service, including campus police officers, security officers or student employees in work-study programs. The IACLEA accreditation standards also require that anyone providing safety escorts participate in a training program and that all escorts be logged.
Data to be included in safety escort logs may include the first name of the client, the starting and ending locations, the time the call was received and dispatched, the time the safety escort arrived and the time the call was cleared.
Even campuses that are not pursuing accreditation should be aware that accreditation represents a professional standard against which any college law enforcement or security operation might be judged. These standards could be used in evaluating campus protocols if, for example, there is a court case that calls into question the actions of a campus police or security officer.
There are really several goals to providing a successful safety escort program: one is to keep people safe, the other is to make people feel safe. Operationally it’s important to provide prompt and efficient service. Providing a safety escort is not a bodyguard service, but it allows a student or other person on campus to walk with an officer who has situational awareness, is in tune with possible risks on campus and can call immediately for assistance.
When Meeting the Client, Establish Appropriate Boundaries
When students, faculty, administrators or guests request an escort, they should be asked to wait in a safe and secure place. The client should not be expected to wait outside on a dark corner because it is more convenient for the officer. Answering a call for a safety escort promptly communicates to the client that the department takes his or her safety seriously.
When performing a safety escort, the officer should double-check to make sure he or she has the right equipment (radio, cell phone, keys and flashlight), wears a uniform and looks professional. When meeting the client, safety escorts should always exhibit professional behavior that emphasizes safety above all else and that represents the department well.
Once the safety escort arrives at the starting point, he or she should notify the dispatcher of the arrival and then locate the client. Using the client’s first name only, the safety escort should introduce themselves by title and last name (“I’m Officer Doe, and I will be escorting you today.”). The officer’s manner should be friendly but professional, which helps to establish professional boundaries. Finally, the officer should confirm the destination (“I understand we are going to the library today.”).
The safety escort should not carry any weapons unless specifically authorized and properly trained. The safety escort also should not carry items for the client, such as books or groceries. It is essential to keep both hands free to reach the radio or cell phone.
When escorting more than one person, an officer should first make sure it is okay with both clients to escort two people together.
Always Be Aware of Your Surroundings
When escorting clients safely to their destinations, officers should be aware of surroundings and the people nearby. They should walk in well-lit and well-traveled areas and not go through dark or enclosed spaces, even if it makes for a longer walk. Openness equates to safety, so back tunnels and campus short-cuts are not appropriate when providing a safety escort. Additionally, being alone with a client in a closed-in space could make the client feel unsafe or later be the source of accusations of wrongdoing.
When approaching doors, if the door is glass and there are no threats on the other side, it is polite to hold the door for the client to go first. However, the safety escort should go first if he or she cannot see what’s on the other side of the door.
It’s also okay to engage in appropriate, polite conversation, but personal or controversial topics should be avoided. Safety escorts should be (and appear) interested in what the client has to say, and speak politely to help the client feel comfortable. Safety escorts should make eye contact and remove sunglasses when introducing themselves to clients. Officers should walk side-by-side with the client.
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