The security industry, in deference to the popular American tradition of seeking inflation of perceived status as a sometime alternative to boosts in pay, likes to shy away from the old term, “security guard,” in favor of the more modern-sounding, “security officer.” On one level, this evolution makes a kind of sense. After all, police are not just police any more. They are police officers, as though to convey a higher status by mimicking military distinctions – until, that is, the police officer gets outranked by a police sergeant. So much for fidelity to the military structure as it crosses over into the civilian realm. Even the term “civilian” is transformed, or perverted, in this cross over. In the military, police are as much civilians as any other non-combatant member of the public unaffiliated with the military. Today’s police, however, see all non-police as “civilians.” So much for the definitional hopscotching that permeates our times. Now for the counter argument, the case for calling a guard a guard.
Guard is both a verb and a noun. As an action term, to guard means to defend, and to defend means to actually do something with positive protective value. Thus, applying the term to a function, that which a security sentinel carries out for the benefit of the people or property protected, represents an exercise in matching the label to the responsibility. A guard guards someone or something. This is a reputable thing to do and, at its best, even a noble one. So calling someone a guard is not pejorative but descriptive. It concisely tells what that person’s function is and leaves little to speculation. Moreover, even a police officer does not necessarily make a good guard. Why? Police carry out a public safety function, chasing and apprehending villains for a greater societal good. This frequently means that what they do best is increasingly removed from protecting people and property, including guard functions such as sentry duty. It is a different skill set. As one who has frequently interviewed law enforcement (another newspeak synonym for police) candidates for non-police, security positions, I have found that the average police officer’s experience with actually guarding a facility is limited to the occasion when he or she was in charge of securing a perimeter for a search or other temporary event counted in hours, certainly not in weeks, months, or years. There is nothing wrong with being a guard and no evidence that police make better guards, hence deserve perceived higher status that a guard company can only offset by calling its guards “security officers.”
What does the “officer” label convey? Does he or she officiate? No. Calling someone who is there to perform a guard function an “officer” draws attention away from the core duty of defending. The officer label shifts attention to who the person is, perhaps in contrast to others. An officer sounds like somebody. In the world of protection, however, what counts most is not what labels and trappings of status one accumulates but what one actually does and is prepared to do when bad things happen. Whom do you want protecting you in time of crisis, a guard or an officer? Which sounds more likely to step into harm’s way on your behalf, rather than to step back and just take a detached, “officer’s” view of events in order to properly observe and report them?
Let’s start calling people, functions, and things by names more representative of what we want them to do than what minor status we pretend to confer. Call a guard a guard and let him or her be proud of being seen as a defender rather than a wannabe functionary.
-- Nick Catrantzos (ironically, a former officer)