If you've ever visited a mall, jewelry store, government office, agency, bank, museum, or private estate, you've probably seen a security guard. These types of law enforcement professionals are often privately employed and tasked with protecting their employer's property against illegal activity including theft, fire, terrorism and vandalism. They're usually armed and are the first line of defense, calling on assistance from police, fire or emergency medical service teams as needed.
Security Guard Job Description
Some security guards are static, working in one place at a time; others are mobile and work on patrol, driving or walking from location to location and conducting security checks. They have the authority to detain or arrest law violators and issue warnings for traffic violations.
Guards may be posted at shopping centers, theaters, office complexes, banks, health care facilities, airports, train stations, factories, museums, laboratories, government buildings, universities, military bases, recreation sites, sports arenas, nightclubs and other locations. Some work as armored car guards, while others work as gaming surveillance officers. Almost every industry requires security guards. Depending on the size of the employer, security officers may be promoted to security manager, or they may work alone, handling all security for any given facility.
Most security guards work at least eight hours per shift and spend much of that time standing or moving. Many are also on call. For employers who need 24/7 coverage, guards may rotate schedules with their colleagues. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2008 that roughly 16 percent of security guards were part time employees.
Security Guard Requirements
The qualifications for a position as a security guard aren't quite as stringent as those to enter a police department, but there are certain requirements nonetheless. Employers favor candidates who have earned a high school diploma or equivalent, as well as guards who have been licensed. A lot of the training is completed on the job. Generally, training includes weapons retention, the use of force and testing on the use of firearms. Many states require ongoing training for guards to retain their licenses. Guards at small shops may not receive as much training, for example, as those working at nuclear power plants.
While there are no education requirements to become a security guard, a degree in police science or criminal justice can give you an edge. Some postsecondary schools even offer programs or courses specifically for security guards.
In addition to holding a license, candidates should be at least 18 years of age and able to pass a drug test and background check. Armed guards are subject to more thorough background checks than unarmed guards. Certification is also available through ASIS International. Armed guards typically earn more than unarmed security guards and have greater job security, additional benefits and more upward mobility in their careers.
Security Guard Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 1.1 million security guards and gaming surveillance officers were employed in 2008, 55 percent of which were in investigation and security services. By 2018, security guard positions are expected to increase by 14 percent.
The median annual salary of a security guard in 2008 was $23,460. Industries hiring the most security guards include hospitals, local governments, elementary and secondary schools, and private investigation and security services. The top paying industries for security guards are natural gas distribution; deep-sea, coastal, and Great Lakes water transportation; computer systems services; business schools and couriers and express delivery services.
New York has the most employed security guards, followed by Florida, Nevada, District of Columbia, and Hawaii. Those working in Alaska earned the most.