In any pandemic, security personnel are also on the front lines. But the front lines look different than the expected sectors. Before a customer or patient comes into contact with staff, they often pass by or through a security guard. In fact, they are so important that the United Nations shared guidelines and suggestions on the role of security in a pandemic.
The jobs of security personnel have expanded in unexpected ways in the pandemic. Normal concerns used to be more related to loss prevention or physical safety. “Lockdown,” “shelter-in-place,” “evacuation” are all drills you know. But in the pandemic, the concerns are more complicated. What is the role of the security sector in a pandemic?
Enforcement and Response
Security personnel have always existed for enforcement. Not by using force, as is often assumed, but by representing the force of a policy or regulation. For example, shoplifting comprises 36% of retail loss. But, instead of training security personnel to spot and confront shoplifters, a more effective technique is to put up signs reminding shoplifters that there are security personnel present. The reminder is the enforcement of the sign, even if you don’t hover around customers.
In a pandemic, the role is the same, but more complicated. Enforcing loss prevention is confusing enough, with state laws and municipal laws about contact and detention. Enforcing something as “negligible” as face-mask wearing is a complete challenge. Add to this the personal reasons individuals do not wear masks, and escalation is almost inevitable. But, by presence alone, and reminding customers and visitors of your presence, security personnel already carry out basic enforcement.
Response has become ten times trickier. If a customer or visitor does not comply with implied enforcement (your presence, or signs about security personnel), part of your role is to physically enforce the policy or regulation. Sometimes, it’s as simple as blocking a door. Other times, it’s as complicated as a physical struggle. Both involve physical contact—which puts you, your security team, and your store staff at risk.
What Are Some Issues that Have Intensified in the Pandemic?
Stay-at-home orders and general restrictions, like the wearing of face masks in public, have limited foot traffic. However, as you probably experienced, the same orders have also limited staff, increased the rate of residential or domestic crime, raised community stress levels, and fanned resentments.
Increase of shoplifting
One of the more efficient ways to prevent shoplifting is to make sure the employees engage with customers. Store staff greet them when they enter, ask how they may help if the customer lingers at a certain shelf, hover in the background, and alert security personnel to any possible incidents.
With the recent drop in retail, stores have laid off workers or lessened the number of staff coming in for shifts. Employees under observation or feeling sick are often not allowed to come to work, but limited options means no one can take their shift. The lack of employees and reduced number of security personnel in most places make shoplifters bold. In the recent year, shoplifting apprehensions grew by 2.3%. If 2 million shoplifters have been caught every year on average for the last 5 years, in the last year alone, 46,000 shoplifters were added to that number. And those are only the ones who are caught.
Even more alarming, infection is a weapon shoplifters wield against employees and security personnel. By claiming infection, some shoplifters give themselves a head start as such a claim automatically causes personnel to hesitate. Even without the claim of infection, apprehending and detaining shoplifters always puts security and store personnel at risk.
Increase in domestic violence
Domestic violence has increased so much in the pandemic era that the United Nations is calling it a “shadow pandemic.” Globally, they estimate that domestic abuse increased by 20%. For security personnel in residential areas or condominium buildings, this is a reality. Whether they end up intervening directly or calling law enforcement, it adds to the risk of physical contact and of all the risks that come with multiple outsiders entering the building (law enforcement).
Increase in civil unrest
The noise and literal smoke of civil unrest provide very good cover for another kind of disruption: looting and protest-related vandalism. As security personnel, you are automatically part of how people perceive a certain brand or store. If any protester has a personal grudge against the brand or store you work with, expect some kind of attack under the cover of civil unrest. Looting has less grudge-related motives, but it is also a high risk when there is civil unrest near the store or place you guard.
What Are Some Practical Ways You or Your Security Team Can Adapt?
Limit customer entry. For the retail sector, “social distancing” guidelines provide good cover for limiting customer entry. Only allow in as many customers as the staff and security personnel can monitor. This way, you can reduce, as much as possible, shoplifting incidents.
Enhance no-contact measures. Previously, especially if you work in a small store or have a large team, contactless measures were not as important. However, at this time, you will encounter many kinds of people. These include people with a firm belief in no-contact measures, and people without that firm belief. Your best bet is to play it safe and invest in no-contact measures such as security wands. One example would be clear markings for people to stand if they need to speak to you. Another would be security wands or other forms of equipment that allow you to investigate without physical contact.
Post the domestic violence hotline. Secrecy is key when helping victims of domestic violence reach out for help. You can keep the National Domestic Violence Hotline posted near the security office, or place the website of their page on your desk. At a pinch, someone might ask to use the office phone to call the hotline, or ask you to call for them. Make sure they know you’re open to the idea and willing to help.
Practice deescalation techniques. When faced with an angry protester or looter, try to keep calm and approach it as a potential conflict. As long as you are not actively outnumbered, you can still use your manner and voice to reason with the person you are facing. If you become defensive, they may feel threatened and escalate the conflict. Only use physical force as a last resort. There is a higher risk of escalation in situations like these.
Safety and security are, literally, your job and responsibility. It can be complicated, thankless, and often misunderstood. But as someone on the front lines, take care of your own safety and security. If you have any techniques to share with us, find us on social media!