Professionalism and Security Matter When Providing Safety Escorts

Managing this service effectively can yield benefits to the public safety department and campus.

Safety escorts should never ask for or accept a client’s E-mail address or telephone number. Providing a safety escort is not the time to arrange a date with a client; if they insist, security officers should explain that they could lose their job. Tips are also off limits.

If another person approaches the client, safety escorts should physically move to stand between the client and the newcomer. Ask the client if they want to go inside or away from the person, and watch their reaction and respond appropriately so they continue to be and feel safe.

Survey the Scene When You Arrive
Safety escorts should be especially attentive and survey the scene as they approach the requested destination. If leaving a client at their vehicle, safety escorts should use their flashlight to check under and inside the vehicle. While a threat under or inside the vehicle is highly unlikely, checking to be sure is part of being professional. If the client asks, it’s best to explain that checking is part of the routine.

Safety escorts should also make sure their client gets in the vehicle, the vehicle starts and the client drives safely away. In the winter, this might require the safety escort to stand outside for several minutes while the engine warms up. If something were to happen to the client later on, the safety escort needs to be able to say they watched the client start the car and then drive away.

It’s also important to remember what not to do. For example, safety escorts should never leave a client b
efore reaching the destination, even if the client says, “It’s okay, I can go from here.” Instead, safety escorts should explain that they are required to walk the client all the way to the destination. Imagine the consequences if a client were to slip on ice 50 feet from his or her destination, if their key did not work or if an attacker hid behind a nearby bush. Also, safety escorts should never go inside a home or room, or get inside a car, even if the client offers a ride back. Instead, it’s better to make an excuse such as, “I have other work to do while I’m in the area.” Security escorts should never put themselves in a position to be accused of wrongdoing.

When using a vehicle to drop someone off at a designated stop, safety escorts should stop the vehicle, survey the surrounding area, and ask the client if they need directions. After opening the door, it’s good to wait and see that they get under way. If dropping someone off at their car, it’s a good practice to circle around and flash the headlights on the car, which will make it easier to check under the vehicle.

Avoid Abuse and Build Awareness of Escorts’ Value
Safety escorts should not be used as “a free taxi service” to transport students or others around campus. The service should also not be used as a “drunk bus,” although transporting intoxicated students is definitely preferable to them staggering home or driving under the influence.

When interacting with clients, it is important to reinforce the value of security escorts. A client might apologize for requesting an escort, for example, but the officer should emphasize that they are smart to do so because people who walk together are safer than people who walk alone. Calling for a safety escort is a way for a client to take charge of his or her safety, so it is important to encourage him or her to use the service.

Providing a secure escort might be routine 99% of the time, but following a standard process ensures that the officer is also prepared to respond the other 1% of the time. Providing effective safety escorts requires officers to continually earn and maintain the customer’s trust.

Greater awareness can improve operation of safety escort services on campuses. Unfortunately, there are still some institutions that do not provide training or do background checks on safety escorts. In some cases, safety escort services have been improvised without an emphasis on professional operations. Badly conceived programs have a real potential of backfiring to the detriment of the entire security operation and could result in an expensive personal liability lawsuit or even in tragedy.

Safety Escorts Must Receive Proper Training
The importance of training can’t be emphasized enough. The idea of training safety escorts might seem ridiculous or “overkill” to some. However, details matter in all security and law enforcement practices, and tripping up on little things can lead to big problems.

Training for safety escorts can be included as part of the lesson plans of a larger departmental training program. Course content that specifically addresses safety escorts might take an hour or less of training time, and should be followed by role play and/or field training with a senior officer, or a combination of both. The basics of safety escorts could be included in a self-study module to be used with a learning management system but should be followed up with additional field training.

Professional training for a department’s safety escort staff might not garner the same mind share as active shooter or mass notification training, but it should not be ignored. Delivery of core safety escort services directly impacts the department’s reputation, its perceived professionalism and, ultimately, its support from the top level of the institution. Building a department’s reputation begins with getting the little things right. Without this foundation, which includes providing safety escorts, departments will never have the support to implement the large programs they need.

John Pack is the director of higher education security for G4S Secure Solutions (USA) Inc., which has developed a free module to train safety escorts in the college and university environment.

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