Security guards patrol and inspect property against fire, theft, vandalism, terrorism, and illegal activity. They monitor people and buildings in an effort to prevent crime.
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Security guards typically do the following:
• Protect and enforce laws on an employer’s property • Monitor alarms and closed-circuit TV cameras • Control access for employees, visitors, and outside contractors • Conduct security checks over a specified area • Write comprehensive reports outlining what they observed while on patrol • Interview witnesses for later court testimony • Detain criminal violators.
Guards must remain alert, looking for anything out of the ordinary throughout their shift. In an emergency, guards may call for assistance from police, fire, or ambulance services. Some security guards may be armed.
A security guard’s job responsibilities vary from one employer to another. In retail stores, guards protect people, records, merchandise, money, and equipment. They may work with undercover store detectives to prevent theft by customers or employees, detain shoplifting suspects until the police arrive, or patrol parking lots. In office buildings, banks, hotels, and hospitals, guards maintain order and protect the organization’s customers, staff, and property. Guards who work in museums or art galleries protect paintings and exhibits by watching people and inspecting packages entering and leaving the building. In factories, government buildings, and military bases, security guards protect information and products and check the credentials of people and vehicles entering and leaving the premises. Guards working at universities, in parks, and at sports stadiums do crowd control, supervise parking and seating, and direct traffic. Security guards stationed at the entrance to bars and nightclubs keep under-age people from entering, collect cover charges at the door, and maintain order among customers. Guards who work as transportation security screeners protect people, transportation equipment, and freight at airports, train stations, and other transportation facilities.
Unarmed guards generally need to have a high school diploma or GED, although some jobs may not have any specific educational requirement. For armed guards, employers usually prefer people who are high school graduates or who have some coursework in criminal justice. Some employers prefer to hire security guards with some higher education, such as a police science or criminal justice degree. Programs and courses that focus specifically on security guards also are available at some postsecondary schools.
Many employers give newly hired guards instruction before they start the job and provide on-the-job training. The amount of training guards receive varies. Training covers numerous topics, such as emergency procedures, detention of suspected criminals, and communication skills.
Gaming surveillance officers and investigators usually need some training beyond high school, but not necessarily a bachelor's degree. Several educational institutions offer certification programs. Classroom training generally is conducted in a casino like atmosphere and includes the use of surveillance camera equipment. Employers may prefer individuals with casino experience or investigation experience. Technical skills and experience with computers also is a plus.
Drug testing is often required and may be ongoing and random. Many jobs also require a driver's license. An increasing number of states are making ongoing training a legal requirement for keeping a license. Guards who carry weapons must be licensed by the appropriate government authority. Armed guard positions also have more stringent background checks and entry requirements than those of unarmed guards. Rigorous hiring and screening programs, including background, criminal record, and fingerprint checks, are typical for armed guards.
Security guards work in a wide variety of environments, including public buildings, retail stores, and office buildings. Guards who serve as transportation security screeners work in air, sea, and rail terminals and other transportation facilities. Gaming surveillance officers do most of their work in casino observation rooms, using audio and video equipment. In 2010, most gaming surveillance officers worked in gaming industries, casino hotels, and local governments. Transportation security screeners are employed by the federal government.
Most security guards spend considerable time on their feet, either assigned to a specific post or patrolling buildings and grounds. Some may sit for long hours behind a counter or in a guardhouse at the entrance to a gated facility or community.
Guards who work during the day may have a great deal of contact with other employees and the public. Although the work can be routine, it can also be hazardous, particularly when an altercation occurs. Some security guards provide surveillance around the clock by working shifts of eight hours or longer with rotating schedules. Some security guards choose to work part time while others may take on a second job.
The median annual wage of security guards was $24,380 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned $17,210, and the top 10% earned more than $41,680.