Shopping Centre

Putting security first

Published:  28 November, 2012

The new emphasis on ‘softer’ skills requires security officers to be more versatile. But security still has to come first.

John Briggs, director of operations at First Security, part of Interserve, is one of the industry’s more outspoken voices. In a recent blog he raised the recruitment and training issues posed by shopping centres’ demand for staff who can multi-task - acting as customer service ambassadors one moment and security officers the next.

 “When we opened Bluewater we had 30 people employed as helpers - and we chose the most outgoing people we could find,” he remembers. “But security officers weren’t like that - they were 6ft tall and barked rather than talked. Now security officers have to do both.”

Briggs recognises there is no winding back the trend for customer service and security roles to merge, but warns that it requires a new approach to recruitment and training.

“For 99 per cent of their time on the mall officers need to be welcoming and friendly to the people that use the building,” Briggs says. “But in that 1 per cent  when there’s an incident they need to be completely different - they need to show an air of authority.”

And for many it’s the former, rather than the latter, that they find difficult. “Often officers are reluctant to become too friendly and approachable,” Briggs says. “It’s difficult to get them to commit to customer service.”

The way Briggs goes about giving them the confidence to do both is to remind them that even when they are engaging with the public they are no less security officers. “Keep the eyes in the back of your head going,” he reminds them.

Interserve, through First Security provides security services for some of the UK’s biggest shopping centres like The Mall at Cribbs Causeway and Manchester Arndale- both managed for Prupim by CBRE - as well as Meadowhall. And in cases like this where Interserve acts as a multi-service provider, Briggs says it’s easier to get security officers in the large malls to adopt a softer approach by instilling a One Team ethos. “All our managers are SIA licensed even if they’re on the cleaning side,” Briggs says, “and everyone gets involved when you have something like a disaster recovery exercise.”

And security officers are required to show similar flexibility. “If a security officer sees a spillage he should grab a mop and clear it up. Again, it requires a different attitude but we tell everyone that they are responsible for getting the centre open for business.”

Equally, First Security is putting its weight behind another initiative that stretches the role of the security officer: the Community Safety Accreditation Scheme.

The scheme encourages security officers to enroll as Special Constables, but it’s not without its opponents. “It’s at the discretion of chief constables,” explains Briggs. “Avon & Somerset are very pro it, so we’ve rolled it out at Cribbs Causeway. But Greater Manchester are less so, so we haven’t been able to do it at the Arndale.”

Briggs is calling for a consistent approach across the country. “The SIA delivered the accreditation the industry needed very well and very quickly. Why can’t it now take responsibility for the CSAS?” he asks.