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The use of armed security officers is a continual debate among security professionals. Personnel and customers frequently perceive the presence of armed security officers favorably as a robbery deterrent or an assurance that violent situations can be quickly addressed. Many security experts accept armed security officers as appropriate where the risk of certain crimes justifies the level of protection.  

Crime prevention is the variable that is most difficult to measure in the debate over whether to accept the risks associated with armed security officer deployment. Although armed security officers have a role in providing meaningful security protections at high-risk locations, they should be deployed in locations when security leaders, in consultation with appropriate partners, agree the organization would benefit from such a security measure.  

There is potential liability associated with the utilization of armed security officers. The greatest liability is associated with the death or injury to an employee, customer, or other innocent party. There is reputational risk and the potential for lawsuits. 

It is difficult to quantify with data the number of incidents deterred by an armed security officer. However, it is known that security incidents do occur when armed security officers are present. What is most important is how the individual responds to the incident. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the organization - whether proprietary or outsourced armed security officers are utilized - to ensure only well-trained and qualified personnel are posted at their locations. 

The primary question in determining whether to utilize armed security officers must stem from an understanding of the armed security officer’s primary objectives within the broader security strategy for both an individual location as well as the organization’s brand. Armed security officers can be useful in circumstances in which communities may be comforted by the presence of an armed officer due to previous incidents at the location or crime rates within the broader community. The organization may consider accompanying the deployment of armed security officers with a survey or other metric for understanding stakeholders’ comfort level within a location. Given the criticality of stakeholder buy-in to the effectiveness of an armed officer program to allay fears and deter crime, understanding community reaction is an essential element to ensure adequate return on investment.  

Armed security officers are most effective when deployed as part of a thoughtful and tiered security strategy that considers other risk mitigators such as GPS tracking systems, interior and exterior cameras, monitors displaying activity at controlled entry points and bullet resistant glass. In this way, the officer becomes one of several concentric layers of security that can be provided by the organization. Accordingly, the organization is not solely dependent on the armed security officer for security but can deploy the armed security officer as one of many solutions in their broader protection strategy. Part of that broader protection strategy may include utilization of armed security officers as overwatch for individuals entering and exiting properties from parking lots and garages. Additionally, armed security officers can be utilized for visitor-controlled access in larger corporate offices. As mental health challenges and panhandling/vagrancy continue to escalate, armed security officers may be a solution to deter loitering or nuisance complaints and move along individuals with no business on company property. Finally, specially trained armed security officers may be considered for tactical response specific to active aggressor incident deterrence as well as workplace violence and similar employee protection programs. 

clay-barnett.jpgmary-gates.jpgCo-authored by Clay J. Barnett and Mary A. Gates, of the Banking and Financial Services Committee