I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

I work the midnight shift for a large company.  The building where I toil contains about six thousand people during normal business hours, but is virtually uninhabited after the sun goes down.  The vast parking lot outside is empty except for a few cars clustered near the employee’s entrance.

My coworker approached me last night with a tale to tell.

“You know what I saw as I was coming in?  A guy in the parking lot trying to break in to a car!”

masked car thief

“And you know what?  The security guards didn’t know about it!  I walked around the building to the front lobby, where the security offices are, and I found the guy inside asleep in his chair!”

security guard asleep on the job

“What did you think he was going to do about it?” I asked.

This question brought my coworker up short.  He cast about for an answer, confused and taken aback that I wasn’t sharing in his contempt for the guards.

“Well, I … I don’t know!  Something!!!”

“You mean like call the police?” I asked.

My coworker seized upon this tidbit that I threw to him.  At last, a reasonable response from me!

“Yes, that’s it!” he exclaimed.  “They should have called the police!  And they should have done something to stop the bad guy!”

“So why didn’t you do it?  You had a phone.  You wasted five minutes walking around the building.  Why didn’t you call the police?” I asked.

Once again, confusion reigned.  He just didn’t see what I was getting at.

“It’s just …That is … It isn’t my job!” he said with anger.

“It isn’t their job, either.” I explained.

The security guards at my workplace, like the vast majority of security guards throughout the world, are paid as little as possible.  Here in the United States, that means they earn the legal minimum wage for the state where they have the job.

It isn’t much cash to make a life, and most of the guards I know are constantly looking for another job that will pay them a few more pennies per hour.  As soon as they get the green light from an employer who is willing to pay minimum wage plus ten cents, they simply stop showing up.

man shaped hole in wall

Turnover is very high.  There are always new faces in those uniforms.  The only people who stick around are either elderly people trying to add a little something to their retirement, or recent immigrants who are struggling with the language and customs of their new home.  But even they usually quit after a year or so, just as soon as they gain some fluency or earn enough to move down south where the winters are not so hard on old bones.

elderly security guard

The management provides virtually no training.  Why should they, when whoever they train isn’t going to be around for very long?  Word got around very quickly that I was the guy to go see if a guard had trouble figuring out where to find the utility spaces.  I can’t count the time I’ve directed them to junction boxes, fire alarm panels, or pumping rooms.

pumping room

And that pretty much illustrates what the security guards are paid to do, as their only real duties at night are to check the utility spaces for signs of breakdown.  They aren’t supposed to see to the safety of the other employees, they are there to see to the safety of the building!

Hiring a security staff that will make regular rounds in order to check for fires, leaks, and power outages reduces insurance premiums to an amazing degree.  Signing a contract with a large security company may cost more than hiring your own, but it saves a lot of headaches since the client doesn’t have to worry about finding a bunch of people desperate enough to work for minimum wage and virtually no benefits.  After all, how much would you pay to have someone wander around a building every hour and poke their head into a few dark closets?

So we have a few untrained individuals, some of whom are elderly, who are without any equipment at all except for a clipboard.

sasquatch security clipboard

Why in the world do people think they will spring into action to confront possibly dangerous criminals?  Do they think the guards value their low paying jobs so much, or that the security staff is eager to tussle with the bad guys when the medical insurance offered by their employer sucks?  It doesn’t make any sense for them to be brave on the behalf of another.

Does this mean that all security guards are supposed to just sit tight in their office, and call the police if danger threatens?

Not necessarily, although security guards that actually provide physical security are rare.  They have to be trained, they have to meet a certain level of physical fitness, and they have to have the right equipment to prevail in a violent encounter.  This doesn’t mean that they have to be provided with firearms, but they certainly need to have access to less lethal weapons.

baton, stun gun, defensive spray

That is the best indicator that a security guard will try and intervene in order to protect you, if there are weapons of some sort at their belt.

What are the main points of this essay?  That the police don’t magically teleport to the scene of a crime, it takes time for them to arrive.  Unless a security guard is trained and equipped to confront a criminal, then you are wasting valuable time getting them involved when you can more easily call the police yourself.

3 Responses to “I Don’t Think That Word Means What You Think It Means”

  1. Fruitbat44 says:

    You pay peanuts, you get monkeys. -sigh-

  2. dustydog says:

    For perspective, security is contracted out for civilian government non-VIP buildings. One prominent company only hires people who have served as Marines. They carry guns, wear body armor, always at least 3 guards at each checkpoint at all times (usually 5), are serious about checking security, unfailingly polite, and seem bored out of their skulls. No books, no TV, no computer, no music, just talking to each other, chatting with the workers as they come and go, or patroling the hallways.

  3. persnickety says:

    See also the L’enfant Plaza and metro trains in Washington DC. From what I gather, smoke poured in but it took ‘authorities’ 40 minutes to decide to evacuate the train. So the passengers hung around in a smoke-filled train, less than 1000 feet from the platform, waiting for approval to leave. So far, one person is dead from smoke inhalation and two are in critical condition. People actually died rather than take action on their own. – with 40 minutes to consider –

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