Jeremy Clarkson on Security Guards

Nice essay:

Of course, we know why he's really there. He's really there so that if the bridge is destroyed by terrorists, the authorities can appear on the television news and say they had taken all possible precautions. Plus, if you employ a security guard, then I should imagine that your insurance premiums are going to be significantly lower.

This is probably why so many companies use security guards these days. It must be, because when it comes to preventing a crime, they are pretty much useless. No, really. If you are planning a heist, job one on the list of things to do is "take out the guard". He is therefore not an impenetrable wall of steel; he's just a nuisance.

And he's not just a nuisance to the people planning to hit him on the head. He's also a nuisance to the thousands of people who legitimately wish to enter or leave the building he's supposed to be guarding.

At the office where I work, everyone is issued with laminated photo-ID cards that open all the barriers and doors. It is quite impossible to make any sort of progress unless you have such a thing about your person. But even so, every barrier and door is also guarded by a chap who, in a fight, would struggle to beat Christopher Robin. One looks like his heart would give out if you said "boo." Another has a face that's so grey that, in some lights, he appears to be slightly lilac. I cannot for the life of me work out what these people are supposed to achieve, apart from making the lives of normal people a little bit more difficult.

EDITED TO ADD (4/13): Another Clarkson essay, this one on security theater.

Posted on March 30, 2010 at 6:06 AM • 53 Comments


BF SkinnerMarch 30, 2010 6:42 AM

There's some conflation here.

The "security guard" is a range. We have the retiree night watch, the fully armed and armored police officer working part-time (which is what they had at my last gig - I thought they were just you know eating the bulky food - then I found they were in tac vests while on duty) Then there is the MP. The best example I think of is the US Air Force's Air Police. At the base gates (only place I saw them) heavily armed professional specialists. We would frequently give Navy SPs grief (after all they were just petty officers like us doing a collateral duty) but the word was don't mess with the AP.

So each type of guard serves a different threat model.

I know maintained alarms are good but in the words of General Berrienger "We've had men in those silos since before any of you guys were watching "Howdy Doody"! Now I myself sleep pretty well knowing those boys are down there. "

I regard the guard as a layer in the security enviornment. (I want to say laminate but no one will know what I'm saying. I hate the idea of layered security as commonly practiced. Unless each security "layer" is interdependent on other layers then they are just individual hurdles to overcome as the article describes.)

Humans are adaptable and can respond to a wide range of events. Say an alarm goes off. What has to happen? A human has to go investigate. If they find something then they call (fire dept, police, tactical response) whatever.

grizzlyMarch 30, 2010 6:47 AM

Security Guards are an early warning system. They may also be a deterrent to some obvious crimes of opportunity. (Casual crime?) I think we also under estimate the number of idiots who "act suspicious".

I really do want a pasty face heart attack to call 911 when I'm getting stabbed with a screwdriver for my entry badge! It's not perfect but it beats dying alone next to the badge reader.

ALL deterrents are, at most, an inconvenience to a dedicated attacker. I still lock my front door with my easy to bust lock.

Lets analyse security controls critically, but lets not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Nick LancasterMarch 30, 2010 6:57 AM


At the same time, even fully-armed and highly capable guards can be put in a 'security theater' position. To wit, the national guardsmen stationed on the SF Bay Bridge after 9/11 ... they were there in case terrorists should strike.

But how and what would be their response? Giving chase to a suspicious truck? It's already ON THE BRIDGE.

Tim March 30, 2010 7:13 AM

Somewhat off topic, but people may be interested to know there is a programme about GCHQ on BBC Radio 4 this evening at 8 - presumably it can be found on the web somehow if you're outside the uk.

Clarkson FanMarch 30, 2010 7:35 AM


"I hate the idea of layered security as commonly practiced." I'm with you on this one - 'security guards' standing in the foyer for the same 15 minutes every morning and asking people to flash what appears to be a photo id badge at a range of 10ft, is a bit of a joke. And the 15 minutes in question isn't the busiest time of day either in a 24/7/365 access building.

If you have left your badge behind or are a visitor, you simply sign a guest book that the guards rarely look at, let alone verify that you are indeed Mr A. Nonymous.

As for the bank of CCTV monitors at the front desk, the guards have even been known to watch the horse racing on television instead.

IsraeliMarch 30, 2010 7:39 AM

Security guards in Israel are posted every place there's public: cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, shopping malls. Some are students, some are retired folks, the occasional Russian physicist or concert musician that can't get another job. These people check your bags when you go in, and have no more expertise than being able to say 'may I look in your bag'?
Some of them have prevented suicide bombers from exploding inside the places they were guarding, sometimes paying for it with their lives.
What I mean to say is that sometimes even a measure that looks flimsy and imadequate will help save lives and provide one more degree of security. Perhaps not for every threat, but for some threat. Perhaps the guard is a nuisance for some robbers, but not for every robber. Do we drop firewalls because they're just a nuisance for some people? No, we keep them because they help stop script kidies. You employ the security guard with the training that your threat model requires as another commenter mentioned.

Alf WhiteheadMarch 30, 2010 8:06 AM

"Plus, if you employ a security guard, then I should imagine that your insurance premiums are going to be significantly lower."

This is probably true and supported by evidence. For fire insurance.

Dan @ Airships.netMarch 30, 2010 8:11 AM

Can someone explain the point of requiring a visitor to show ID to enter an office building if the security guards don't compare that ID to some sort of "watch list"? What's the point of knowing that "random visitor" is actually "John Smith" if the guards don't know anything about "John Smith" in the first place?

(This is not just a rhetorical question; since so many office buildings follow this policy, and pay for it to be enforced, what's the rationale employed by the building managers who have to justify this expense?)

aManMarch 30, 2010 8:31 AM


If a visitor does a BAD THING (tm), or just forgets his umbrella, while in the building, it's much easier to track down John Smith than John Doe, especially if you've taken down information beyond just his name.

jlMarch 30, 2010 8:32 AM

We used to have guards that would insist that we show them our badge on entry, then proceed to the inner door where we had to swipe that same card in the card reader, even if the door was open for someone else passing through. Annoying and useless!

Scott OlsenMarch 30, 2010 8:43 AM

"But even so, every barrier and door is also guarded by a chap who, in a fight, would struggle to beat Christopher Robin."

I swear, for a second there, I thought he was talking about TSA!

derfMarch 30, 2010 8:53 AM

I especially love state government buildings. Go into any of these buildings and they all have metal detectors with armed guards next to them. Every single person that walks through the metal detector sets it off, and the guards don't even turn around to look. If a visitor sets it off and actually stops, the guard just turns around and waves them on.

Tax dollars at work.

TomMarch 30, 2010 8:55 AM

I don't necessarily disagree with the point, but I have a small question. The insurance industry, whatever one may think of it, employs a lot of very smart people. And those smart people are primarily engaged in one endeavor, namely, evaluating risk. So if insurance premiums actually are lower if you have a security guard, you have to wonder why. Is the insurance industry just wrong?

DayOwlMarch 30, 2010 9:09 AM

Contract security officers are only as effective as the client wants them to be. Mostly, they're window dressing whose sole purpose is to take the blame if something goes wrong. Any person who's worked as a guard for any period of time knows that actually doing the job means getting sacked in a hurry. The first time a mid-level manager, who thinks they're too important for security requirements, lodges a complaint about security, the system is rendered useless.The only way to stay employed is to Not Do Anything.

Firms that provide security guards have also learned that providing the least qualified individuals and the lowest level of service for the highest possible hourly rate is the way to get ahead in the business. Effective guards are too expensive and carry a high level of risk. This is an unfortunate reality of the contract security business.

If security guards are ineffective and unqualified, it is because people want them that way.

retiredMarch 30, 2010 9:26 AM

the security guards should be provided with a booth that has lexan two inches thick, just like the clerks at the local superamerica store have. then they could give him a telephone to call police and he wouldn't have to use his whistle on the customers who act suspicious.

DanMarch 30, 2010 9:44 AM

I worked as a security guard back in the 90s, and I can say that many of these observations are correct. I was unarmed, barely trained, and my job was mostly to write down bits of info in a notebook such as "guard X on patrol verified that door Y is locked." I opened doors in the dead of night for vendors from half a mile away (no way to verify their ID). If you ever wanted to break in to the business in question, the easiest way would be to show up 15 minutes ahead of the real donut guy in a uniform that looks sort of like his and say "Donuts!" into the intercom. Boom, you're in.

However, I can say that in our case, the guards served a very important purpose: employee reassurance. One of our employees had been attacked, brutally raped, and killed, in a company parking lot, while walking to her car after work. After that, we were hired. We checked that doors were locked, and just walked around doing nearly nothing, but employees saw us and liked that we were there. Any employee could request a security escort from the building to their car, which made employees happy, especially female employees at the site where the attack took place.

Another useful function we had was in preventing door-card piggybacking. During busy times of day, particularly in the morning, every major door would have a guard posted, and his/her job was to make sure each person carded in, instead of just following behind the person in front of them who had opened the door. This was most rigorously enforced on my building, which housed the national mainframe and our IT division. Amusingly, one morning a guard stopped the CIO and demanded he card in. The CIO had forgotten his card and pulled rank, saying "do you know who I am?" The guard did, but was planning to quit soon anyway, so he pretended he didn't. The CIO left, probably just calling someone to let him in another door. But it was still a great story to us guards. (We hated the egomaniacal CIO.)

One night, the fire alarm went off. The day shift security managers conducted fire drills a few times a year, and yet this is what happened: most of the employees (IT people working late) ran downstairs, *underground* to my office to look in my window for direction. I had to actually tell them to go back *up* to ground level and get the hell outside. Then, the emergency manager called me and said she had been paged that the fire alarm went off, and wanted to know if we were conducting a drill. I knew that she scheduled the drills, so I asked her "I don't know, did you schedule a drill? That's your job, right?" She hung up, hopefully feeling like an idiot. I was dumbfounded that these people had not only not gone outside, but had actually come down to the basement level to ask me what to do. Didn't they learn in grade school that when a building is on fire you go outside?

So 90% of the time we were probably useless paperweights, but if we stopped some crasher from entering the IT building, or prevented an employee from becoming a victim like the poor woman whose death resulted in our being hired at all, I would say we did have a function, and a useful one.

That said, I don't think I would ever go back to that job. It was the most boring few months of my life.

Jay290March 30, 2010 9:47 AM

Years ago, I worked at a place where one had to show one's employee ID badge to a guard when entering the building. One day, a group decided to have a little contest to find the most outrageous thing one could show the guard and still get in the building. The winner got in with a can of tuna fish.

One problem with guards is the same as in many other occupations: trying to maintain vigilance for very, very rare events in a sea of normality. Guards, pilots, power plant operators, system administrators all have this problem.

K|O|G|IMarch 30, 2010 9:52 AM

No, really, they are useless. My younger brother was a security guard for Novell for near a year. Their official training policy? If you see a crime in progress, stay out of the way, observe, and report. Glad they're there.

BadtuxMarch 30, 2010 10:27 AM

Half of the time, the "security guard" is just there to keep the homeless people / squatters out of the building or congregating in the parking lot in their cars after hours. Otherwise you'd have people setting up housekeeping in the lobbies and stairwells or setting up housekeeping in the parking lot taking up space that the real employees will need in the morning. The homeless generally aren't interested in attacking the security guard, and they know the security guard will call real cops if they try to stay, so they leave. It's security theater of a sort, but one that serves a purpose.

The other half of the time, the security guard is there to monitor the automated systems and keep someone from coming in and circumventing them. It's sort of like ballot boxes (or voting machines) at elections. Typically they're sealed shut with ludicrous security technology -- a wire seal, for example, or a padlock that even the lamest shackle cutter will defeat. The elderly election monitors could not physically stop someone from coming in and doing that, but the mere fact that they're there, watching, keeps it from happening (at least at the polling place -- what happens when the boxes are in transit to a centralized counting place? Thus why the Canadians count the ballots right there at the polling place after the close of voting, to eliminate that threat vector). Most security measures, such as door cards, are easily circumvented via the usual social engineering methods (convince someone to let you in)... unless you have a security guard there to enforce one card, one person. Even that is susceptible to social engineering of course, but far less so than the helpful co-worker who wants to let in the cute ditzy blond secretary industrial thief who is going to sneak keyloggers and network sniffers onto important systems in your network via the simple expedient of waiting for people to leave their desks (have you noticed that almost nobody actually locks their keyboard before leaving their desk to go to the restroom?!). The security guard's whole job is to stop double-carding, so he's more likely to stop this industrial thief.

So yeah, security guards are a bit of security theater, but useful theater even though they aren't all that useful in the context of a real smash-and-grab. But one thing is clear, as the murder of a K-Mart security guard in Michigan makes clear -- you shouldn't expect them to actually handle an incident in progress once it turns violent. That guard tried to keep a couple from driving off with a couple hundred dollars of stolen CD's. He should have just called the cops, he'd be alive now. Undoubtedly he violated K-Mart's own security policy, and paid with his life.

BrewDadMarch 30, 2010 10:56 AM

Last week I was on Pier 39 in San Francisco. I noticed a private security guard walking along in front of me. I chuckled when I saw a Sharpie where a sworn LEO would carry his firearm.

"Stop or I shall be forced to draw a permanent caricature of your likeness!"

GeorgeMarch 30, 2010 10:57 AM

And don't forget what is probably the security guard's most important function: Harassing anyone who takes pictures anywhere near their territory! Photographers are all criminals and terrorists.

Keith Appleyard (Brighton, UK)March 30, 2010 11:32 AM

Unless you are actually deploying biometric controls, possession of a Photo ID on its own doesn’t do much.

I often frequent a building with some 5,000 authorised occupants, where they have contactless access with a Photo ID. But with a sample population of 5,000 entrants, coupled with 20% staff turnover, produced by a camera with less Megapixels than my BlackBerry, from a distance anyone can be imagined to look like their photo ID.

It might seem illogical or redundant at first glance, but for relatively low cost, you can gain maximum benefit from the Photo ID by having a minimum wage Security Guard standing behind the Access gate, and as you stream through you have to hold your Pass up to him, and he gets a decent look at your face to authenticate if you are the authorised possessor of that pass.

I’ve visited other High Security Offices where I’ve witnessed Consultants & Contractors entering the building using another colleagues’ Pass, because although its a Photo ID no one wears them prominently on their body, the curse of contactless is that they don’t even remove them from their wallet or purse, and there’s not even a Security Guard checking they are who they pretend to be. The same complex also allows visitors to be signed in by anyone who is already behind the Security barrier; so I’ve been signed in before 8am by a fellow Consultant, without any approval from an Employee of that Company – just so that I could use their Phone/Fax/Copier/Restaurant.

BF SkinnerMarch 30, 2010 12:00 PM

Okay we're starting to flap around.

We think they suck or they serve.

Mostly we're using storys based on ancedotal evidence. (And I usually use storys based on fiction)

Given the nature of ancedotal evidence we can go either way
Here's another for you...
5/24/02 "A terrorist tried to enter a night club in Tel Aviv early today, but a security guard shot him, police said. "
Ooops I see @Israeli already pointed this out.

We think they suck or they serve depending on what?
Based on our expectation of what the guard should do.
Not all are the same. Some have police power on their area of responsibility; many do not. Depends on the contract, the national state and local laws.

@Tom sensibly cited actuarials. Anyone know where to find them? I find insurance company's unwilling to let me in to their intellectual property (so untrusting, tsk). Problem is that the risk the Insurance Company may be measuring is liability as well as actual loss. @Dan's description of the company that brought in human security after the horrible loss of an employee. Courts routinely find against companies for failure of due care in this kind of case.

@Jay290 "can of tuna"
Okay so not human unaided. But identification isn't always just the card. If I work in a place for 10 years and every day drive the same car at the same time past the same guard...he's going to recognize me ID card or not. (Oh and RFT Groups always try this one - I spotted an ID card with the picture of Boris Badenoff on it) One guard at a facility got jumped becuase he waved the Admiral through. She was told he recognized her driver and herself not the big blue flag on the car but she was still pissed off.

Private security guards are now more numerous in the US than sworn officers. Do we want the guys at Walmart responding in the same fashion that they do at nightclubs in Tel Aviv? There are already a lot of violations of civil rights going on (up to and including unlawful detention though we'd say 'kidnapping')

@grizzly "Lets analyse security controls critically"
Wise that.

What is the guards role. Deterence, Detection, Response. (others?)
The degree with which they do these should be tie to the risk of the enviornment. I don't want the guard at Pier 39 able to shoot me if I look like a suicide bomber. I _DO_ want that at the entrance to a Nuke.

anonMarch 30, 2010 1:27 PM

I walk into (and out of) a prison every day.

I have two forms of official identification on me. But I get asked to see them less than once per season.

Why? Because they deploy ultra sophisticated bio-biometrics....the gate staff recognise my face.

Michael EdwardsMarch 30, 2010 3:12 PM

We had a bit of a flap regarding security guards here in Seattle not too long ago. A young girl (15-16, IIRC) was beaten and robbed in the downtown bus tunnel, while three security guards stood right next to her and her attacker (another young girl). One guard even retrieved her belongings from the tunnel floor back to the platform, where another assailant then stole them. I suspect largely because it was all caught on camera, it was national news.

Folks were outraged, of course - I was as well. However, the guards were following their training to the letter - they had been instructed not to interfere in altercations, but to observe and call the police, which they did. The populace at large (myself included) just kind of tacitly assumed that the guards were there for the protection of the populace - in retrospect, I presume they are more for the protection of transit property.

Since the incident, they've switched up guard companies (which is really too bad for the guards they were using, they performed exactly as required), changed the training (which I think is good - of course nobody will be quite so upset of a guard gets hurt intervening), and the local police now have a presence in the tunnels (which is probably not warranted just from one event, other than as a PR move).

One thing I do think is a consideration in this incident, is that the presence of the guards implied to the populace that protection would be offered should something like this happen. The part where I think the county Metro might be liable or in the wrong is, that the presence of the guards would likely prevent any random citizens from trying to intervene - after all, the guards were there, and that's their job. So in this particular set of circumstances, not only are the guards not preventing the attack, they may actually be preventing others from preventing the attack.

Of course, it's a whole other ball of wax as to the wisdom of intervening in an assault (for both unarmed security guards and random citizens).

elizillaMarch 30, 2010 3:13 PM

I worked as a security guard for a few years when I was in my early 20s. We were told that our primary job was fire prevention.

There were some guard positions with the company, that let you sit at a desk by a door in the daytime. But it was much harder to staff them, not because no one wanted them (they were highly coveted), but because the job, there, was to look good and do NOTHING. You know how hard it is to get people to do nothing? And to look alert while doing it? The best people for those jobs came from a residential facility for people with closed head injuries. They always arrived on time, clean and presentable, and they didn't talk much; they just sat there. Perfect. Meanwhile if one of the brighter guards was sent to sit at one of those desks, they would find something to do, and no matter how good their intentions, activism in that job was a huge problem.

hamsterMarch 30, 2010 3:27 PM

Some say... that he's developed a proper one-way algorithm, but just won't share it with the rest of us.

And some say... that he can crack 2048-bit RSA, *in his head*.

All we know is... he's called...


DavidMarch 30, 2010 3:45 PM

@Michael Edwards: you brushed against the truth, when you alluded to "PR".

Most common security guards are there to make customers and patrons FEEL safe. The employer doesn't care whether they prevent crime; they just need to convince jittery people that they do. That is the essence of "security theater".

ContractMarch 30, 2010 4:26 PM

I work contract security in the middle east and Caucasus.

Have and still do everything from VIP protection to convoy security. I also did a few gig guarding gas stations for 400 a day.

With each job came certain types of threats and of course boredom. But when the crap hit the fan. It is adrenalin all the way.

Ever type of security gig comes with its own type of training for the most part and its own type of threats. Yes there are 8 dollar an hour guards to 400 dollar a day guards. You get what you pay for and you get the security that is needed for that place as well as potential threat.

The main thing your paying for is the security professionals training back ground and expertise. Yes guards are a must. Even geeky nerd guards called IT security nerds. All a must.

TuttleMarch 30, 2010 5:16 PM

Employing a security guard is good for security because it gives him a job, which, at least partly, feeds him and his family.

AnonMarch 30, 2010 6:44 PM

In many cases, the underlying security (locks, sensors, etc) are worthless. Guards prevent people from bypassing (ignoring) that security. Like making folks swipe their card even though the door is ajar.

upright cynicMarch 30, 2010 6:52 PM

You folks are mistaken.

The guard serves a very specific and rational purpose that you have not considered.

The guard is to observe and watch that no one "tailgates" -- enters a privileged area by following through the door someone else who has a badge. If someone tailgates, the guard reports that, so that appropriate measures can then be taken. The guard needn't be physically powerful, armed, or have any particularly strong constitution to have value in this case -- just vigilant.

AlexMarch 30, 2010 7:49 PM

Here is a profile of the economist Samuel Bowles:

"In it, there is some discussion of "guard labour" (or labor for you 'mericans), which obviously includes security guards:

In short, in a very unequal society, the people at the top have to spend a lot of time and energy keeping the lower classes obedient and productive.

Inequality leads to an excess of what Bowles calls "guard labor." In a 2007 paper on the subject, he and co-author Arjun Jayadev, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, make an astonishing claim: Roughly 1 in 4 Americans is employed to keep fellow citizens in line and protect private wealth from would-be Robin Hoods.

The job descriptions of guard labor range from "imposing work discipline"—think of the corporate IT spies who keep desk jockeys from slacking off online—to enforcing laws, like the officers in the Santa Fe Police Department paddy wagon parked outside of Walmart.

The greater the inequalities in a society, the more guard labor it requires, Bowles finds. This holds true among US states, with relatively unequal states like New Mexico employing a greater share of guard labor than relatively egalitarian states like Wisconsin.

The problem, Bowles argues, is that too much guard labor sustains "illegitimate inequalities," creating a drag on the economy. All of the people in guard labor jobs could be doing something more productive with their time—perhaps starting their own businesses or helping to reduce the US trade deficit with China."

mashiaraMarch 31, 2010 2:26 AM

> Okay, some of it might be security theater, but don't forget the heroic guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC

Now this may sound harsh, but PC be damned.

From the article it's quite obvious that the guard had no time to be heroic, the "white supremacist" (PC again, are they trying to avoid Godwin or what?) walked in, pointed the rifle and fired before anyone had any time to react.

The guard just happened to be there (probably the attacker was rational enough to have decided to start with the guards but did not have time to finish the job before the remaining ones returned fire. But if not then it could have been any patron).

Now a holocaust museum can reasonably considered to be a target of a nutjob (I wonder about this dual-standard of terrorism, if someone even slightly dark skinned or with middle-easter name so much as says harsh words in anger it's "terrorist", a white nutjob killing people is not) and thus "real" security guards (armed and with authority to intervene) may be good to have and in this case probably a lot more people would have died/injured if the remaining guards would have had to wait for police.

Depending on what trouble the guards give you when the situation is normal the level of security theater can be determined (somehow I think there's a lot of "may I look into your bag" going on), but against the "gunman coming in and opening fire on patrons" risk they did work rather well.

As for the range: true but I guess this is by Clarkson talks about "man in a high-visibility jacket" when talking about security theater. MPs usually have police powers so they're not really security guards in that sense. Bodyguards also have a specific term for the kind of security service they provide.

Isreal is a special case in many ways: First everyone (including women) has compulsory military service, and the training is good, thus there is plenty of qualified people available. Second in certain areas the risk level is high, so it's reasonable to have guards with proper training and authority in places where civilians gather (==good target for attacker).

The author is a white nerd-boy from northern-europe who did his compulsory military service in anti-tank unit.

Adam LockMarch 31, 2010 3:27 AM

Jeremy Clarkson is right by accident more than by intent. Guards can be useless because they are disinterested, inflexible and the security they provide ineffective. But the assumption that the doors they guard are impenetrable without the magic card is wrong. Someone could have cloned a card, or might tailgate behind someone else and a guard might be able to deter such lapses. Assuming the guard has some measure of interest in doing his job and the discretion to challenge people going in.

Besides Jeremy Clarkson hardly has the best track record on security. A few years back he was boasting that nobody could hack his bank account even when he provided the details. Naturally someone did...

JasonMarch 31, 2010 11:18 AM

It depends.

Where I used to work, the first round of security guards were from a security company.

It turns out, the security guards were stealing equipment and items from employee's desks.

They were caught when the camera system for the building was installed and brought online without telling them.

The second round of security guards are all off-duty policemen. No more thefts, plus they carry guns!

mcbMarch 31, 2010 12:44 PM

As others have noted manned guarding arose in the pre-technical era from the practice of hiring a night watch to ring the fire alarm. These days manned guarding is best used to do things security systems can’t do as well, better, or cheaper. Guards can provide first aid, extinguish incipient fires, notify building engineers of facilities equipment problems, serve as receptionists, guide evacuations, and facilitate the response of police, fire, and EMS personnel. When we use guards in place of machines can’t afford to pay them very much, we bore them, and even stun them into lower states of consciousness, if not sleep.

The presence of a guard changes the way people interact with each other, the built environment, and the enterprise being visited. Properly trained and supervised guards can enhance customer service. Guards can increase perception of personal safety, comfort, and confidence in the minds of staff, visitors, and the public. In egregious cases this can become “Security Theater,” but to the average person perception is reality. The presence of a guard provides an observant person someone to report their concerns to. A guard may be in a position to notice unusual behaviour.

As with fences and signage the presence of a guard may force malefactors demonstrate their intentions. The presence of a guard can make the difference between loitering and trespassing. Hiring a guard can increase the likelihood of detecting a crime – whether incipient, in progress, or more promptly after the fact. The presence of a guard requires the willingness and ability on the part of malefactors to avoid, distract, or neutralize the guard. The presence of a guard makes burglary a robbery.

The presence of an armed guard presents the risk of death or injury to would be malefactors. The presence of an armed guard requires the criminal conspirator consider committing murder in order to effect whatever other crime they have in mind. These considerations can cause risk averse non-violent offenders to self-select themselves out of the threat pool.

For every snarky commentator there are hundreds of persons who are comforted by the presence of a reasonably attentive security guard operating under an appropriate set of instructions. There are certainly many poor examples of manned guarding. They are routinely the result of management not knowing what they want or how to ask for it or guarding firms operating under a commodity business model that supplies labor by the pound. Poorly done guarding is the bane of a true security professional’s practice. Properly done, manned guarding a critical component of a balanced security program.

CraigMarch 31, 2010 3:58 PM

Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear always has some great tongue in cheek moments, and is more than likely just saying all that to look at it from another perspective and have a bit of fun.
If it was ever developed for their program, they would probably attack the bridge in a boat built from an Australian car :-)

AndrewMarch 31, 2010 6:19 PM


"From the article it's quite obvious that the guard had no time to be heroic, the 'white supremacist' [...] walked in, pointed the rifle and fired before anyone had any time to react. The guard just happened to be there . . ."

The guard was where he was supposed to be, doing his job, when he was murdered. He didn't have time to act to defend himself, but he had already acted heroically (i.e. acted with courage) by putting himself in harm's way.

In the military, extremely dangerous jobs rotate frequently. The soldier driving the lead vehicle in the convoy through hostile territory and the outer checkpoint guard in a high threat zone have rather poorer odds than the rest of the unit. Being on "point" is dangerous.

Let me add to that a bit -- every guard who works at such a high profile location understands that their job is to put their lives between patrons and that which would harm them. This is not true of every guard, whether armed or unarmed.

It was true on 11 September 2001 when twenty-nine security guards lost their lives in the World Trade Center.

The alternative is to have guards who "observe and report," run away at the first hint of danger, and are paid minimum wage to be a human tripwire. Autonomous Mine Clearing Device, Biological, Single Use.

Articles like Clarkson's are double-edged -- they point out the inadequacies of the minimum wage guard and 'buying guards by the pound,' but fail to grasp that the highly motivated, well trained and adequately compensated guard, deployed properly, can be worth far more than his weight in gold on the day that you really need him.

Pierre AlexanderApril 29, 2010 10:51 PM

Many interesting opinions about security guards but due to so many, I am only going to respond to Jeremy Clarkson essay statement concerning the physical and mental state of some of these so called security guards. He is absolutely right, but being in the industry I will enlightened the fact why. It is because of most companies and individuals are to cheap to pay a rate that would comensurates the abilty of a higher level security agent. As the saying goes - you "you pay peanuts you get monkeys ". I do not have that many accounts as the BIG COMPANIES have, because I refuse to compete with low level security companies and compromise om my quality of service. But it is hard with all the unliscened and unskilled individuals who pretend to be what hey are not, that is another problem in this field. Thank god there are still some people who understand the concept of "You get what you pay for ".

Pierre J. Alexander
ISA* International Security Affiliates
Alexander Enterprises  *  Spartan Consulting Group
Tel: (310)930.6335 Operations:  (310)930.2426
Skype ID: isaprotect
9029 Airport Blvd.,  #91214
Los Angeles,  CA 90009
PPO 14993        PI  12878
Affiliations: CALI. NAPEA. IACS.  LALEFI.  ATAP. ASLET.  Etc...

Pierre AlexanderApril 29, 2010 10:57 PM

Sorry about the the typos, but this subject get to me sometimes. Also for those who do not know according to the state agency- BSIS who regulates the security industry, security guards are supposed to
" only report and observe ", unless a life is in immenent danger, that is what you are supposed to do legally. Catch 22- who would hire Personal Protection Agents
( Bodyguards) if that is all they did ?????

Pierre J. Alexander
ISA* International Security Affiliates
Alexander Enterprises  *  Spartan Consulting Group
Tel: (310)930.6335 Operations:  (310)930.2426
Skype ID: isaprotect
9029 Airport Blvd.,  #91214
Los Angeles,  CA 90009
PPO 14993        PI  12878
Affiliations: CALI. NAPEA. IACS.  LALEFI.  ATAP. ASLET.  Etc...

RJMay 18, 2010 7:18 PM

How many of you naysayers, who haven't worked a day in security, give a thought to what really happens through a security officer's effort? Have you saved a life lately? Have you given CPR this week to anyone? Have you personally stopped a car-theft-in-progress? Did you call 911 for a massive fuel spill in the car park and averted a major explosion last week? Collared any would-be terrorists lately like the guy who was carrying around a 9mm in his backpack on the job in our centre? A few of us actually do some good simply because that's what WE do and YOU don't.

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