Whose Security Guards?

Is it better to hire a proprietary security guard force or to retain the services of a contract security guard company? Which will cost more? Which will provide the better security guard service?

Industry experts say that both approaches make sense. Selecting one or the other depends upon the nature of the security problem at hand, the resources available to the college or university safety or security director, and other variables.

Generally speaking, contract security companies are better able to recruit, can provide more comprehensive training, offer greater scheduling flexibility when it comes to managing contract guards, and have more extensive overall resources.

On the other hand, proprietary guard forces probably benefit from esprit de corps and a sense of community. Since it is possible to pay better wages to proprietary employees, turnover might be lower in proprietary guard organizations.

Contract Vs. Proprietary Costs

But these theories can break down when put to practical tests. Take the example of cost. Is it more or less expensive to hire contract guards or proprietary guards?

Contract guard companies, understandably, mark up the hourly rate they pay to their guards. Couldn’t a college or university cut its costs by hiring guards directly and paying wages instead of a contract company’s fee? Aren’t direct wages lower?

Not necessarily, notes Alan Stein, vice president of higher education services with Allied-Barton Security Services in King of Prussia, Pa.“If you do it yourself, you also have to cover soft costs associated with paying wages,” he says.“Those costs include payroll administration, hiring and recruiting, and legal support if there is a law suit. Don’t forget that your time is money.”

Training Benefits

Stein goes on to say that contract guard service companies also offer substantial advantages when it comes to training. “A contract company will usually have a dedicated training department,” he says. “The department is responsible for developing general and specialized training materials. At Allied-Barton, for example, we have over 70 full time trainers stationed around the country. They administer training at all of our sites.”

The company’s King of Prussia office maintains a staff of training professionals who develop educational programs and materials. Currently this group is developing training sessions related to emergency preparedness and evacuation procedures among other topics.

Allied-Barton training programs that relate directly to college and university needs cover issues such as Cleary Act crime statistics reporting, dealing with drug and alcohol abusers, dealing with young adults, and diversity awareness.


A college or university that operates its own guard force must manage security officers. That means hiring and training guards, setting up guard posts, scheduling guards to fill those posts at appropriate times, working around sick days, vacations, and no shows. Contract providers also handle unpleasant tasks such as firing guards that don’t work out.

Allied-Barton’s management infrastructure also includes on site managers and roving account managers that visit different clients and sites every day, adds Stein. Further, the company has area and district management levels. With this kind of management structure, Allied-Barton can bring outside expertise to bear quickly on just about any problem.

Security Specialists

Another advantage of contract security relates to the idea that contract security providers do nothing but security. By contrast, colleges and universities move outside of their educational expertise when dealing with security issues.

A company that specializes in security can tap experience from many different industries in searching out solutions to specific problems. What, for example, is the difference between providing security for a campus residence hall and a campus building construction project. Both will require officers with different capabilities. A guard service can provide that. Of course a university can do it too. It isn’t rocket science. But the guard service may be able to do it better, cheaper, and faster, thanks to an ability to adapt more quickly to new requirements.

Hybrid Security

Sometimes contract security officers make sense. Sometimes proprietary guards make sense. Sometimes both make sense for the same institution.

At Columbia University in New York, the Public Safety Department employs about 100 proprietary security officers and a varying number of contract officers. Each group handles different assignments.

Unionized proprietary officers have for many years handled security within the boundaries of the Columbia Campus. Like many urban institutions, however, Columbia has burst beyond its boundaries with student and faculty housing, administrative offices, and other functions. The university provides security for these off campus locations by hiring contract security officers.

Officers employed by the university staff on-campus residence halls, checking identification cards of entering students. They staff guard booths at two campus entrances 24 hours a day. A third entrance, used primarily for deliveries, is staffed by security as needed.

Contract security guards staff Columbia’s off-campus buildings and patrol in vehicles. “We use contract guards at these locations because our needs change and contract services let us staff up and down on the margins,” says James McShane, Columbia’s assistant vice president for public safety. “With a contract guard service, when you need three guards, you ask for three guards. When you don’t need three anymore, you ask for two. Another big benefit is that if a contract officer doesn’t working out, he or she is easy to replace. You just call the contractor and ask for someone else.”

The hybrid system works well at Columbia, which has distinctly different needs on campus and off. Smaller institutions with fewer and more focused needs would obviously do better choosing between contract and proprietary. But which?

For needs that don’t change, industry experts recommend considering proprietary officers. Once the recruiting, training, and management systems have been established to handle a need that rarely changes, there is no reason to pay a contract company. Of course, the converse is also true. For security tasks that change constantly or require changing numbers of officers, contract security makes more sense.


On/Off-Campus Fires: Key Safety Resources

The following are resources on fire safety and prevention. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) encourages students, parents and administrators to review the following resources to prevent future fires and tragedies.

    • U.S. Fire Administration — , 301/447-1000 — for facts, PowerPoint presentations and more.

    • U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — , 800/321-OSHA.

    • Fire Safety — , 301/447-1000 — a resource for eliminating residential fire deaths.

    • The National Association of State Fire Marshals — , 877/996-2736 — handles fire safety code adoption and enforcement, fire and arson investigation, public fire protection education and more.

    • Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. — , 847/272-8800.

    • Fire Safety and Directory — — contains national and international fire protection information links.

    • Fire Safe Council — .

    • American Society of Safety Engineers — , 847/699-2929.

    • For a list of states with retrofit sprinkler laws, please visit the National Fire Sprinkler Association website at .

    • The National Fire Protection Association — , 617/770-3000.