Time to Bring in Contract Security

Although in many cases students can be a good source of affordable security personnel, when it comes to dorm protection, challenges exist. As a result, Vanderbilt University made the switch to contract security officers to resolve the training, screening, management and other issues often associated with student employees.

Like many institutions of higher education, Vanderbilt University previously engaged students seeking part-time employment to act as security personnel for the residence halls. Unfortunately, three years ago, one of the dormitories was the site of a non-fatal shooting when a visitor “piggy-backed” into the building by entering as a student exited.

In light of this and other concerns, a campus security task force was convened to evaluate the value of student vs. professional contract security in residence halls, and Vanderbilt University engaged in an active bid for contract security firms. AlliedBarton Security Services was selected as their contract security provider for their residence halls.

Student Employees Can Succumb to Peer Pressure
Historically, student workers have been a ready source of relatively low-cost, part-time security workers. But the costs and risks associated with them have often been understated. “On college campuses, the majority of problems happen on weekends, and after 11 p.m. and before 3 a.m.,” said Glenn R. Rosenberg, vice president, higher education for AlliedBarton. “Expecting students to monitor other students can be a slippery slope as they wrestle with peer pressure issues and being called upon to enforce policy in a manner that is outside their comfort zone.”

While many students perform diligently in this role, there are numerous challenges to scheduling, training, background checks, and managing a student security work force that add significantly to the perceived hourly cost. Additionally, it exposes those protected to additional risk.

In recent years, a growing practice among urban institutions is the contracting of residence hall monitoring functions to professional security companies whose core competency is recruiting, vetting, training, providing uniforms for, and managing officers who are accountable for the personnel and property safety of the buildings they protect. Critical to the success of such arrangements is a program that ensures security officers master the fundamentals of protection as practiced and regulated in an institutional environment, including understanding the legal framework and culture of a college or university.

Security Officers Must Respect Campus Culture
Working closely with the school, AlliedBarton’s challenge was ensuring that their uniformed and professional security team could effectively deal with the university culture and policy. “The ideal security officers for our residence halls are security professionals who are consistent, understand their authority and are cognizant of the nuances of providing services inside student residences,” says Marlon Lynch, chief of police for the institution. “Officers in private environments need to respect that they are working where students are living. They must honor and respect student privacy while enforcing the law.

“Contract security companies are often overlooked as a valuable resource,” he adds. “It is of vital importance that the officers we hire to patrol our residence halls meet the extremely high expectations of our university. And, contract security officers from AlliedBarton were the right fit. We ultimately chose that company as our trusted vendor because of the significant training their officers go through, which underscores the importance of the Clery Act.”

Each Officer Screened and Trained Extensively
Vanderbilt University’s biggest concern was that the contract security firm hired was effective and respected on campus. “The number one concern of our student population was that the officers working in our student’s living quarters were suitable for our community,” says Lynch. “We require professional security officers who are trained to do what we ask of them and who conduct themselves in a professional manner that enhances our university.”

The chief and his police officers actively worked with AlliedBarton regarding the screening of each and every individual hired. “We hired a diverse security workforce consisting of officers who are not just diverse in ethnicity but also in their experience and backgrounds,” he adds. “While the cost of security services is always a factor, our primary goal was securing high caliber, expertly trained services and personnel who will enhance our community.”

The AlliedBarton officers replaced the work-study students who had previously served as security monitors and have been assigned to all Vanderbilt University residence halls. “Our officers monitor the buildings and permit access to only those individuals who have legitimate activities there,” says Scott Dunlap, district manager for AlliedBarton who manages the campus program. “They maintain radio contact with the police communications center.”

Vanderbilt University’s campus safety initiatives, which include police officers, contract security officers in the residence halls, video surveillance cameras, access control cards and secondary door alarms, provide as secure a living environment as possible for all students on campus. “Our program strikes a sensible balance with individual convenience and community safety,” adds Lynch.

Campus at a Glance

Campus: Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University is comprised of 10 schools and has nearly 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The 330-acre campus has 30 residence halls and apartments. By 2010, it is anticipated the school will have 100 percent of its student population housed on campus.

Problem: There were challenges associated with the scheduling, training, background checks and management of part-time student guards. Also, a non-fatal shooting prompted the university to re-evaluate its student officer program.

Solution: Contract security officers from AlliedBarton were hired to patrol Vanderbilt University’s residence halls.

Results: Liability exposures have been mitigated with a more structured, disciplined and professional approach. Now, officers only permit authorized individuals into the residence halls. Additionally, the guards have integrated well into the community.

Nancy Tamosaitis is president of the public relations firm Vorticom Inc. She can be reached at nancyt@vorticom.com.

Related Articles

To subscribe to the unabridged print version of Campus Safety magazine, click here.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo