Conley’s firm does not retain security officers past three months that do not obtain their CPO certification

Conley’s security officers must study for and acquire a Certified Protection Officer (CPO) certification

After nearly 40 years of a sustained and concentrated effort to transition the security industry to the security profession, Tom Conley is still beating his “security profession drum” at full volume. He still hopes that the security industry-to-profession movement will one day be a reality.

He sees himself as an eternal optimist embarking on a feat of nearly Biblical proportion. He contends it’s a cause that has long been ignored. While there are a lot of moving parts involved in the security industry transitioning to become the security profession, it all starts with security officers being carefully hired and trained as professionals.

Public perceptions of security officers

“Typically, security officers can only observe and report,” says Tom M. Conley, CPP, President and CEO of the Des Moines-based The Conley Group, Inc. “If security officers cannot also react and respond appropriately, then they cannot do their job.  It is that simple and uncomplicated.”

Compare and contrast the public image of today’s professional law enforcement officer with that of the high percentage of traditional guards that comprise the majority of the guard industry, continues Conley.

People understand that law enforcement officers undergo rigorous initial and ongoing security training. Thanks to that training, law enforcement officers can, by and large, help or protect people in a little trouble — or in very serious danger.

“Not so about the traditional guards of today that occupy position of great responsibility with little to no training,” Conley says. “The public generally thinks of security officers as poorly paid, low-level watchpersons with little or no training and little or no competence. The simple and ugly truth is that public perception is highly accurate.”

Hiring qualified and trained officers

Why? Contract security firms typically sell their security services as provided by their guards as having been trained in all aspects of security. Companies buying those services sometimes rely on that representation, which is often inaccurate. Other time, companies buying those low-priced guard services know full well that what they are buying is nothing short of a scam to their organisation.

"The public generally thinks of security officers as poorly paid, low-level watchpersons with little or no training and little or no competence. The simple and ugly truth is that public perception is highly accurate"

“The fundamental problem is the gap between what organisations need in terms of protection and the competencies (or, more accurately the lack thereof) that security guards are able to provide,” says Conley. “That’s what happens when a contract security company hires guards as cheaply as possible instead of hiring people who can become professional security officers.”

“Security doesn’t receive support from the C-Suite, either — because there are no metrics that illustrate the value of security to a business enterprise. Lack of C-level support is another reason you get low paid, untrained officers. If executives truly understood the type of protection they DO NOT have with tradition guards, it would keep them up at night.”

CPO certification

“All of this traditional guard incompetency and seemingly low-cost nonsense to change or organisations and their employees will suffer the consequences of failing to have adequate protection.”

Conley has endeavoured to set the “security profession” example for 35-plus years now. His security officers must study for and acquire a Certified Protection Officer (CPO) certification from the International Foundation for Protection Officers (IFPO). Topics of study for that certification include:

  • Crisis Intervention
  • The Protection Officer as a Leader
  • Security Risk Management
  • Antiterrorism and VIP Protection
  • Crime and Incident Scene Procedures
  • Interviewing and Statements
  • Defensive Tactics and Officer Safety
  • Apprehension and Detention Procedures
  • Information Security and Counterintelligence
  • Many, many other topics 

Conley’s firm does not retain security officers past three months that do not obtain their CPO certification. “Candidly, not everyone is disciplined or smart enough to pass the CPO examination. Those are the exact type of people who occupy most of the security industry and are the ones we do not want.” Once an officer earns their CPO certification, they must then periodically recertify with the IFPO.  “If any officer loses their CPO certification, then they lose their job. It’s that simple.”

"Candidly, not everyone is disciplined or smart enough to pass the CPO examination. Those are the exact type of people who occupy most of the security industry and are the ones we do not want"

Complying with law enforcement standards

Once new officers have completed CPO training, Conley sends them to a police training academy where he hires an off-duty police officer who is also a certified peace officer police instructor. His security officers are then trained and qualified to law enforcement standards.

Training includes all lethal and non-lethal weapons used by police officers including the ASP Collapsible Baton, Handcuffing, OC Mace and Defensive Tactics.  Then comes firearms training where his security officers must qualify on a range to law enforcement standards.

That is a lot of training, but Conley asks, “What is the alternative? The answer: traditional guards and that’s a loser for everyone except the guard companies who make in the billions of dollars every year by hiring low-wage, unqualified people right off the street, dressing them in a uniform that is still likely warm from the person who just turned it in on their way out the door, and then placing the new guard on post at a customer location with little or no training. That’s just dangerous and is truly a recipe for disaster.

“By stark contrast, I make sure our people are competently trained,” says Conley. “By properly training and equipping our people, we are giving them all the tools they need to be successful as well as safe — we want all of them to go home in one piece at the end of their shifts.”

Firearms on the job

Conley also believes security officers should carry firearms on the job because unarmed guards are literally not equipped nor capable of being able to effectively neutralise a deadly force threat. “A professionally trained and fully-qualified armed security officer is essential when facing a deadly force threat.  Even if the police are right across the street, they cannot physically get there in time to prevent a shooting. Choosing to have an unarmed traditional guard versus having a  professionally trained and fully-qualified armed security officer on site follows the same flawed logic that there is no need to have a fire extinguisher on site because we can just call the fire department if a fire breaks out. This analogy highlights the core flawed nature of any organisation having unarmed traditional guards.”

“A professionally trained and fully-qualified armed security officer is essential when facing a deadly force threat. Even if the police are right across the street, they cannot physically get there in time to prevent a shooting

“There should be no such thing as an unarmed security officer,” he says. “What if an unarmed security officer knocks on a door and is attacked and permanently injured? He or she has a complaint against his company for failing to provide proper training and protection. Call traditional guards something else, but do not call them security because they are not.”

When an adverse event occurs, and when traditional guards fail as they nearly always do, and when harm results, that can also be a violation of the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which says, employers have a legal obligation to reasonably protect employees against obvious and foreseeable dangers.

Security profession vs. security guard

“An OSHA fine then sets up a civil lawsuit against the company for gross negligence. All of a sudden, that low-cost guard company turns out not to be such a low cost after all.”

While some, if not many, contract security firm executives would disagree with Conley’s contention that all security officers carry firearms on the job, it is difficult to argue against the comprehensive training Conley provides for his recruits – and the results of his officers’ performance at their customer locations. Conley does not blame contract security firm executives if they disagree with him. “I would not want traditional guards being armed either” said Conley.

When Conley’s security officers go out on the job, they have turned professional.  As for the rest of the guard industry, Conley’s calls for a security profession versus a security (guard) industry continue. As he says, “The beat goes on.”

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