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How to Recruit Campus Police and Security Personnel

Schools, universities and hospitals require a different type of law enforcement and security officer than other types of organizations.

April 19, 2013  |  by Robin Hattersley Gray

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.
Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto.

Turn on any TV cop show, and inevitably at some point in the program you'll see a gun battle or two; perhaps a big explosion and a thrilling car chase are thrown in for good measure. By the end of the hour, the good guys catch the bad guys, the hero gets the girl and all is well with the world.

Everyone knows that shows on television don't represent the reality of traditional policing. This is even truer of campus law enforcement and security, which primarily focuses on community policing and crime prevention.

School, university and hospital officials who understand the role their police and security officers play in supporting their organization's mission will be better prepared to attract and hire the right officers. Here, eight campus public safety executives describe what they want in a candidate.

Look for the Right Personality Traits

For K-12 and college officials recruiting police and security officers, they must ensure the individuals they hire work well with children and young adults.

"Look at their background," says Richard Goldstein who is a police officer with the Riverside Community College Police Department and formerly worked as a school resource officer (SRO). "Maybe they have a degree in psychology. Do they have any other experience working with children? It's about stopping problems, talking with these kids and parents. There are a lot of cops who just don't have it in their nature to want to be in that environment."

Considering the clientele that schools, universities and hospitals serve, campuses usually want officers with excellent people skills and judgment, as well as the ability to communicate appropriately and respectfully.

"I'm not looking for a guard," says Joe Bellino who is Memorial Hermann Health System's system executive for security and law enforcement. "I'm looking for a professional security officer who has the critical thinking and ability to work under stressful conditions and then provide that high level of customer service. I believe nine times out of 10, if we give excellent customer service and talk to people in a respectful, polite manner and resolve their issues, we avoid conflict."

Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Police Chief Daniel Dusseau also believes people skills can make or break his department.

"Officers often stress their hard skills, the tactical classes they've taken or that they are a breathalyzer operator or radio operator," he says. "Those things are fine, but we can teach anybody to do those things. I look for life experience — the ability to critically prioritize and articulate why one course of action is better than another."

Lt. John Degurse, who is NOVA's commander of administrative services, describes the nuanced decisions that campus officers often must make when dealing with students.

"In many cases, [offi cers] have a decision to make whether they arrest someone or refer them to the dean of students," he says. "Our role here is not just one of law enforcement, but one of guidance. We help students make good decisions rather than locking everyone up."

G4S Director of Higher Education John Pack adds that campus security officers in the education sector must be open minded and sensitive to the maturity level of the students they protect.

"[Campus officers] are not your tough-guy security wannabes who want to go out and throw their weight around," he says. "You are looking for their ability to be a teacher and seize teachable moments, helping students understand what they need to be doing so they can be safer."

Kevin Quinn, president of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and an SRO at an Arizona High School says a campus police or security officer must also be proactive rather than reactive, focusing less on arrests and more on prevention.

"The goal is not for me to make a lot of arrests and write a lot of police reports," he claims. "It's prevention by dealing with kids, doing presentations in the classrooms, doing crime prevention, doing site surveys and assessments on campus. Your goal is to reduce or eliminate crime; not sit back and wait to catch kids doing bad things."

Compassion is another trait that is critical, particularly with hospitals, claims Universal Protection Service Regional Recruiter Richard Lopez.

"Remember, hospitals are where sick, injured and, sadly, dying people and their families have to deal with [difficult] emotions," he says.

G4S Director of Healthcare Services Ben Scaglione agrees, adding, "When people are in the hospital, the reason why they are there is because it's bad news. Their minds are preoccupied with what's happening to them and their family. The officers have to be sensitive to that."

Be Mindful of Your Local Job Market

So where do you find good recruits, and how do you screen them? Most of the individuals interviewed for this article have found good candidates at the local police academies, other agencies and criminal justice programs. Internet postings and booths set up on college campuses are more ways to attract recruits. Other good candidates include retired military and law enforcement, as well as some careers that might not be so obvious.

"Believe it or not, bank tellers tend to have a high degree of success as security officers because of their people skills," claims Bellino.

The job market in which you are operating also affects the caliber and quantity of candidates available. For example, NOVA is located in the Washington, D.C., area where there are more than 50 agencies competing for the same talent pool. So that NOVA PD can compete with other agencies, its pay and benefits are on par with surrounding jurisdictions. Where NOVA PD excels, however, is with its equipment and training.

"I have better equipment in this job than I had in my 20+ years working for a big agency, which surprised me," says Dusseau. "We have more training opportunities than I ever had in my previous big agency. Those things go a long way in recruiting folks."

His department is also very active in offering training venues to other local agencies.

Pack agrees that paying a living wage, providing benefits and training, as well as offering a career path helps to ensure a campus will not only attract good officers but keep them.

"One of the things I hear from a number of my colleagues, particularly at the small to mid-size schools is they are tired of being the training ground for larger agencies. To avoid that, we need to offer interesting challenges to our most motivated and creative officers; something that keeps them engaged and grounded on our campuses."

Recruit's Attitude Plays a Vital Role

Before a recruit is even hired, however, a campus police or security department must conduct the appropriate background checks and complete the necessary forms, which often weed out the most undesirable candidates. Many campuses have a very formal and structured process that is thoroughly vetted by HR and the organization's attorneys.

"We've put in a pretty rigorous recruitment and selection process," says Bellino. "Your process needs to be well rounded. It needs to meet criteria, and when you deny someone employment, you'd better be sure why you denied them because there are a lot of laws out there."

Once the initial interviews, paperwork, physical testing and background screening is done, what's left is probably the in-depth interview. K-12 school administrators now often sit in on the interview of prospective SROs, which allows them to have a bit of a say as to who they will have on campus.

For Dusseau, there are a few things that indicate a candidate might not be a good fit for his college — a primary one being an inappropriate attitude.

"If they come in here with a know-it-all attitude or that college policing is really beneath them and that they are going to come in here and show us how it is done, that will turn me off ," he says.

Dusseau also asks the recruit what they think their typical day will look like. If the candidate believes it's going to include a lot of guns drawn and chasing of bad guys, the chief knows there is an issue. "If they have expectations that won't be met, they won't be happy."

Editor's note: This article appears in the April/May issue of Campus Safety Magazine.

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

LT @ 4/22/2013 4:51 PM

Think campus policing is easy? I thought it would be too, but 13 years later I have found that campus police officers deal with a lot of different events than your average patrolman or deputy sheriff. It does pay to be a bit more sensative to the students and their parents. Even though the students are 18 Y.O.A. and older, FERPA will only allow us to divuldge certain info to their parents. This task has to be handled with "soft hands". I can now say that I know first hand it takes a special kind of person to handle college students and their everyday life. Wouldn't trade it for anything though.

old timer @ 4/23/2013 10:35 PM

Campus law enforcement is very different from working for a municipal agency. I have worked for a college for 30yrs. I know how the other half lives and street policing is totally different. when i first came here i can't count how many times I stood before the chief for doing what cops out in the real world do! and getting in trouble for it. i understand now! we hired some young guys and wow, you can't tell them anything! they know best! and they just want to go out and arrest evryone they come in contact with! yes it does take a certain kind of person. all of our officers who retired from other agencies work out very well and make the adjustment to this unique type of policing.

Doug B. @ 4/24/2013 9:42 PM

Having taught children starting at age 5 and up, up as much as corp. execs, I had children waiting at the door for martial arts class. Ine thing I learned early on was that you never speak down to them. Not only did I kneel down to be face to face, I did not raise my voice and spoke with them at their knowledge level, avoiding confusing terminology. The students addressed me by my first name, Not master or sensei nor any ego seeking status terms. All in all you EARN their respect and not demand it, and everything else falls into place.

Trigger @ 4/25/2013 7:19 AM

Many years ago I worked campus security (unarmed), it was a paycheck. The maintenance crews had more respect from the staff and students than we did. Training and certifications are critical along with arming the officers.

therookie @ 4/26/2013 12:48 PM

Articule reminds me of the movie TheDemolition Man, we are a friendlier, kinder, dept. San Angeles. Sad, sad, sad. Bad days to be a L.E.O. The supect(s), everybody is one, run the kennel.

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