Private Security
© 2010 FrontLine Security (Vol 5, No 1)

A year ago, Lieutenant Mike Parker, Unit Commander of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) EBD Unit presented a seminar on Education-Based Discipline (EBD) at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. The concept of education-based discipline challenged every notion of workplace discipline that had been ingrained in me during my 20 years in public safety and security. Although the seminar was targeted to police departments, I found that it very applicable to the private security sector, where, in my experience, conflicts often arise in balancing ­discipline with the challenges of personnel retention.

The Challenge
Typically, should a security team member require some measure of discipline, the officer will likely face suspension without pay for the misdeed. Although the message that the officer did wrong will have been clearly sent, other negative impacts result:

  • Though the officer is rightly punished by the loss of pay, his or her family suffers through no fault of their own by this loss of income;
  • A stigma results from the disciplinary action and is attached to that officer , both from peers and supervisors; as well, embarrassment at home often results amongst family and friends;
  • The personal morale of that officer may diminish, perhaps for the long term, which could in turn affect the esprit de corps of the entire organization.

Security management thus faces this dilemma: “How does one apply discipline in a manner that reinforces the good order and discipline of the team, yet has a positive outcome for all?” LASD Sheriff Lee BACA identified this and developed a solution – Education-Based Discipline. Lt PARKER reports that the police culture in the United States historically disciplines officers through suspensions without pay, resulting in the negative factors outlined above. To eliminate the perception that discipline equals punishment, the LASD established a discipline system in April 2009, that sees “offending” officers undergoing training to address the factors related to their offence. For instance, in the past, an act of “Abuse of Authority” could result in a 5-15 day suspension without pay. However, under the EBD initiative, that officer is now presented with the option of spending the suspension days undergoing specifically designed remedial training to address the root causes of the incident. Such training includes ethics, leadership and decision-making skill classes, professional development seminars, and the like. The officer is on duty and fully paid while undergoing the remedial training, and active participation is mandatory. By offering the EDB option, the LASD has exercised due diligence. They have ensured that the factors causing the officer’s infraction have been dealt with, that efforts have been made to maintain a positive employee/manager relationship and that the officer is better equipped to deal with his or her professional shortcomings. The EBD program is optional, and LASD officers facing suspension are free to choose the suspension without pay over EBD training if that is their preference. Training needs are mutually agreed upon by both the officer and command staff. LACSD Sgt Albert Cobos of the EBD Unit reports that since the inception of the EBD program, several officers who participated have provided very positive feedback. In fact, the LACSD now offers the EBD program for several other law enforcement and fire service agencies in the Southern California area. The Education-Based Discipline model has proven to be a success, and Sgt Cobos is confident that it will soon become a strong part of the law enforcement culture in Southern California.

The EBD model may work for a professionalized and unionized culture such as the LASD, but how can the private security industry incorporate the EBD principles into its own culture, and what would be the benefits? Private security companies are naturally interested in making a profit, and must watch the bottom line, especially during these fiscally challenging times. Is there any real long-term benefit for a private security company to send a security guard for remedial training instead of removing him or her from the payroll for a series of days for a work-related infraction? I suggest that there is, if the EBD concept is applied.

Private Security Options
Anyone who has spent time working in security can imagine a number of scenarios that would normally see a guard suspended or fired from the job, as that is often the only available option. But if this officer was otherwise a good employee who simply exercised one instance of poor judgment, are the needs of the company, the guard and the client really being met by suspending the security officer without pay? Is there a better way to bring this employee back into line within the ethical expectations of the company, and indeed the security industry? I suggest that this is where the EBD model should prove a viable alternative to a disposition of suspension.

Once the investigative process into the complaint against the security officer has concluded and disciplinary measures are required, a risk analysis regarding the officer’s professional future with the company should be conducted. If it is determined that the infraction was a single occurrence with minimal risk of a repeat, the officer should be offered the option of suspension without pay or participating in the EBD program. Like the LACSD, the security officer should receive as approximately the same number of days of EBD training to satisfy the suspension otherwise imposed and to ensure that the officer’s shortcoming is rectified. For instance, a security officer who received five days of suspension without pay would have the option of receiving EBD training equal to the five days of suspension and meet the remedial training needs as agreed upon by that officer and their supervisor. Some options for remedial training could include additional basic security training, additional site training with a training officer or exemplary peer, and customer service training for example. The options for remedial training are limited only by the scope of duties the security company expects its officers to provide.

Short or Long Term Vision
Certainly, a major stumbling block for adopting the EBD scheme is the cost of developing EBD options; paying for a training facilitator, paying the officer to attend the training and paying another officer straight-time or even overtime to fill the vacant position. It may be easier to erase the security officer’s pay for the days of suspension and simply pay the wage for the back-filling officer. But as a result, what will the security company have lost? Lt Parker advised that the LASD experience proved that punitive action such as suspension without pay in many cases resulted in the subject officer harbouring resentment towards the departmental management team, which could easily translate to poor morale, poor performance, a sliding level of professionalism and ultimately a poor reflection on the department. The same theory applies to the private security industry; this can affect recruiting, retention and also the company’s public reputation. As Lt Parker pointed out, “The negative perception of action taken against the officer who erred is infectious. Other officers watch with frustration and thereafter justify negative attitudes towards management and their customers as well. The employee may be gone but the infection spreads.”

Suspending security officers without remedial training does not address the factors that caused the misdeed. Ideally, officers going into EBD training will emerge with a better understanding of their misdeed and a clearer view of opportunities for improvement. The officers’ morale will be higher as they have retained their job with minimal disruption in income, and they will carry a feeling that the company truly cares for them as individuals by assisting them in overcoming their challenges and investing in them as a professional. Subsequently, the company may benefit from an excellent reputation among the client-base.

There is a real opportunity for both the public and private security industries to benefit from the education-based discipline program established by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. To increase the level of professionalism industry-wide and enhance client confidence, it’s important for security companies to invest in the development of their employees, particularly in situations where a misguided employee can be rescued through remedial training. Suspensions and firings don’t always satisfy the needs of the client or the company. There are better ways, and an effective Education-Based Discipline model is one viable option for private security companies looking to become leaders in their industry.

Steven MacLean is the Assistant Director, Security Operations of Campus Security at Simon Fraser University.
© FrontLine Security 2010