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The Right Course for Learning

Security jobs are becoming more numerous. And the trend is likely to continue. According to the Department of Labor, demand for security officers in general and gaming surveillance officers in particular is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2012.

Many factors are driving this growth. One is the post-9-11 environment that has focused the public’s attention on the need for greater security. Another factor is the trend for private security firms to perform duties formerly handled by various government agencies and first responders. This growth has increased the demand for well-qualified security employees.

RECOGNIZING THE NEED FOR professional security training, the Community College of Denver created a public security management program in 2003. Since its inception, enrollment in the program has grown from 75 students to more than 100. This program has been recognized as a key resource in the Prepare America program, which works to promote homeland security training for private citizens and government organizations.

The program is designed as both a continuing education opportunity for security professionals and an in-depth introduction for those new to the industry. It focuses on experiential learning and uses an interdisciplinary approach.

Students can pursue either an Associate of Applied Science degree or a certificate in one of six areas of emphasis. A high school program, transferable college credits, and online learning options are also available for students of this program.

Developing a curriculum. A program advisory committee was appointed to create the curriculum and offer advice on the structure of the program. The committee, all of whom were members of ASIS International, used the ASIS private security officer selection and training guideline as a benchmark for the program.

All of us on the committee realized the inherently different requirements between private and public security officers and developed the program accordingly. Public security professionals, like police, are reactive. Private security, however, can proactively fight crime by employing preventive tactics that are not necessarily taught in criminal justice programs.

We also recognized that properly trained private security officers who are first on the scene in an emergency like the 9-11 attacks can be instrumental in evacuating employees and saving lives. The committee, therefore, designed the program to address the education needs of front-line security officers who might also be first responders. They should, for example, be able to effectively evaluate a situation and determine the most successful course of action, saving firefighters and other first responders time and preventing injuries.

Courses. Students in the associate’s degree program can focus their coursework in one of the areas of emphasis, or they can select courses from one or more of the specialty areas: public security; workplace violence; white-collar crime and fraud investigations; physical security; premises liability; homeland security; and corrections. For example, one student has combined courses from the fraud area with courses dealing with technology, creating a self-designed area of emphasis.

Each student in the associate’s degree program is required to take six core courses that are necessary for all security professionals, including the history of private security and crime prevention, loss prevention, and risk management techniques. The degree also requires general education classes, which are interdisciplinary and combine traditional courses with private security issues (more on this later).

In addition, the college offers certificate programs which can be completed in a few weeks. These have been extremely popular with professionals who need training in specific security issues but are not interested in the associate’s degree. For example, lawyers wanting training in homeland security law have taken a security law course at the community college.

Interdisciplinary philosophy. A unique feature of the program is its interdisciplinary approach, which gives students in the associate’s degree program an opportunity to complete general education requirements, like English, by doing work geared toward security. For instance, a homework assignment in an English class may require a student to write a paper on physical security and crime prevention. The English professor evaluates the sentence structure, grammar, and organization, while a security management professor reviews the content for accuracy.

In math classes, students may be asked to create and evaluate budgets for a typical security department. A hypothetical situation could require the student to decide how to spend $5,000 that was given to the security department. If the student decides to purchase a patrol vehicle, for example, he or she will need to identify funds for maintenance and gas.

This approach helps ensure that students will gain not only security knowledge but also an understanding of other disciplines such as reading, writing, and math, which they will need to successfully execute security duties in the business world. Instructors for these classes have weekly meetings with instructors from the security management program, and the disciplines work together to develop the curriculum.

Experiential learning. Although some of the content in the program is similar to that in a traditional criminal justice curriculum, there is a greater emphasis on real-life applications. This hands-on approach allows students to practice the skills they have developed inside the classroom, leading to a greater understanding of the practice of security.

Field trips. Students take several field trips to area businesses. The trips give them an opportunity to interact with working professionals and see firsthand the demands encountered on the job.

In the course Crime Prevention Through Technology, students spend the first three weeks in the classroom learning about methods and techniques. They then go on a field trip to a business in the Denver metropolitan area, where they see the security department’s operations and command centers.

This gives the students a chance to consider the application of their previous lessons in a real-world setting.

Additionally, the students are encouraged to interact with professionals in the field who can offer insights about various security jobs. For instance, a security officer monitoring the building using CCTV can tell the students what type of suspicious activity he looks for.

On another field trip, students are given the opportunity to conduct a security survey of a local business. They work with a trained security practitioner to make recommendations that take into account budget restraints and possible security threats. In one case, students carried out such a survey at the local office of the American Red Cross.

Internship. The program also requires students to perform nine hours of unpaid work as either an internship or as part of a community service program. The students receive no specific grade or credits for this work, but this service helps instill a sense of responsibility and accountability, which will help further the students’ careers by promoting participation in volunteer organizations like ASIS.

This volunteering helped one student enhance her career. She helped a large company in downtown Denver to thoroughly revise and evaluate its security manual. A security firm performing on-site security for the company was impressed by the woman’s work and hired her upon graduation from the program. She is now a manager-in-training with the security company.

High school program. Recruiting students to the security field is a continuing challenge. To assist in this effort, the university has created a high school outreach program, which allows high school students to take four classes for up to 12 hours of credit.

The four classes earn the students a certificate in physical security, which may help them get an entry-level job after graduation. If the student wishes to remain at the Community College of Denver, the 12 hours can be applied toward the associate’s degree requirements.

University partnerships. Through a number of university partnerships, students who receive their associate’s degree through the Community College of Denver program can apply credits toward a bachelor’s degree. For example, Regis University in Denver accepts the Applied Science Associate’s degree toward the completion of the university’s Bachelor’s of Public Administration degree.

Students can also go on to a criminal justice degree at other universities. Federal jobs require a bachelor’s degree, but most police departments require only an associate’s degree.

Online learning. Online learning options allow busy professionals to take specialty courses and training beyond physical college boundaries. The League for Innovation in the Community College, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, has launched the Specialty Asynchronous Industry Learning project (SAIL), which markets and disseminates online courses from partner colleges around the country.

The Community College of Denver, Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, and Monroe Community College in New York have designed a program, Homeland Security Education in the Community College, which is designed to equip students with an understanding of homeland security issues. It includes courses in disaster first aid, terrorism and homeland defense, and critical infrastructure response and defense. The courses are available online around the clock and are a good fit for security professionals who often work shifts at odd hours.

The Community College of Denver also offers a public safety management certificate program online, which is designed as a continuing education opportunity for security professionals. The program is ideal for students seeking to begin a career in security.

Prepare America. The Community College of Denver is involved with the Prepare America program, sponsored by the League for Innovation in the Community College in conjunction with the National Council for Continuing Education and Training and the American Association of Community Colleges. The program is a direct result of President Bush’s state-of-the-union address, which identified community colleges as a key resource in fighting terrorism.

As the regional leader for the program, I network with other colleges in the area to support the efforts of the Office of Domestic Preparedness and the Department of Homeland Security to provide high-quality, cost-effective, and accessible education and training to security professionals and private citizens around the country. The group plans to conduct a national audit of all community college programs related to homeland security and to identify additional ways in which training and education by community colleges may help better prepare state and local governments.

The increasing demand for private security professionals means greater opportunity for anyone interested in working in the field, but it also means that employers may find it increasingly difficult to find enough qualified people to fill new jobs. Programs like the security management program at the

Community College of Denver help further the security profession by creating well-trained job candidates with textbook knowledge and real-world experience.

Dr. Vincent C. Wincelowicz is the chair for the Public Security Management Program at the Community College of Denver and an independent consultant. Dr. Wincelowicz has over 30 years of state, local, and federal law enforcement experience and is the former chief of undercover and sensitive operations for the FBI. He has been the chairperson for the Denver Mile-Hi Chapter of ASIS International since 2002.