The Blog

A Nation of Security Guards

One of the greatest job opportunities for a young person today has to be in the security field. That's right. Forget software technology, insurance, real estate, sales or becoming a lawyer. The security industry is the future.
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One of the greatest job opportunities for a young person today has to be in the security field. That's right. Forget software technology, insurance, real estate, sales or becoming a lawyer. The security industry is the future.

Let's review. Going to law school is no longer a guarantee of getting a position with a reliable law firm. There are just too many lawyers. In the last decade, I've met more out of work lawyers, or ex-lawyers, or law school dropouts than I can count.

What about becoming a funeral director? That can work but only if you do not have a fear of death, or dying. While there are no lawyers in my family, we do have funeral directors (the Donohoe Funeral Home Empire are relatives on my mother's side). The death industry is a lucrative business, even with the popularity of cremation (somebody has to stoke the fires and gather the ashes). But it takes a special personality to work with dead people, especially in a culture where so many people are even afraid to attend funerals.

How about real estate? While jobs in real estate may seem to be booming, most of these "jobs" are part time and dicey at best. Becoming a real estate agent these days is as common as becoming a mail order minister. In my own family, there are 4 or 5 real estate agents (and the numbers are still growing). These real estate nieces, nephews and one sister-in-law had high hopes when they first got their license but once that happened, they discovered just how crowded the field is. For the most part, real estate jobs are a lot like babysitting jobs. Weeks can pass without any activity, but then there's a high cycle and all systems are go. In the interim, the agents stay glued to their cell phones twenty-four seven.

"She's showing another house," I've heard my brother say many times, referring to his absent wife when I'd call on weekends. Real estate house showings know no boundaries -- Sundays, holidays, even Christmas and Thanksgiving are all fair game "show" days. It's the potential buyer, after all, who sets the schedule.

The security industry, of course, has become big business since the nation went on a security roll after September 2001. There's airport and Amtrak security, TSA body friskers, yellow vested agents pacing tarmac airfields, highways, parking lots, shopping malls, gas stations, vacant lots and isolated, overgrown-with-weeds Conrail yards. Go to a department store like Macy's and you'll see more security agents than customers. Yes, Virginia, the world has become a barbed wire camp, and with the new security conscious world there's a preponderance of public cameras, both hidden and visible.

In Philadelphia's Riverward neighborhoods, there are scores of somber dressed in black security guards in the local Rite Aid, CVS, the various Dollar Stores and Dunkin Donuts. There are security guards where there didn't used to be security guards. There's even a yellow vested security guard stationed in front of the Clothespin near City Hall. This guard stands mannequin-like watching people as they loiter or wait for buses.

Where are there not security guards, is perhaps the right question to ask, although whatever answer you might give will be sure to change by next year.

Security jobs are lonely jobs where there tends to be a lot of standing and watching. Persons with weak knees (or eyes that cannot focus) need not apply. Ditto for fidgety types who can't (and won't) stand still. When security guards do move around, presumably it's to patrol or "shadow" a shopper who seems suspicious in some way. The trick for the guard is to do this without appearing to harass or follow someone outright, which might cause offense. One local store not far from my house has a stationed guard near the front entrance, so that the guard is the first person you see when entering the store. As soon as the sliding glass door opens, you are confronted with a badge. This is a constant reminder that we live in that barbed wire society, and it's depressing and disheartening.

While these individual guards may be nice people, their role is to regard every customer as a potential thief and suspect, even if a customer happens to be a habited nun or an elderly woman in a flowered sun hat who walks with a cane. Even people in wheelchairs are prime suspects. Everybody is a potential criminal. Given this situation, how are we (the customer) supposed to react when we enter a store and come face to face with a guard who smiles and says hello but whose eyes seem to suggest that we may just be a shoplifter posing as "someone nice?"

Accepting the new security state as an unfortunate inevitability suggests that we have come to terms with the fact that we live in a rotten society where nobody can be trusted, and that we should just accept the fact that the same guard who smiles and nods to us when we enter a store will also watch us as we shop.

Yet it is getting to the point where entering a store often involves forced ritual eye contact with a guard, even if you may not want to acknowledge the guard with a "Good morning."

"It's a psychic energy drain," as one friend of mine commented. "I might say hello to the sales clerk, but I don't want to have to say hello to all of the guards in every store I visit. This makes it seem like passing through US Customs. I just want to go into a store without being "inspected." And I don't want to go out of my way to smile and say 'hi there' when I just rolled out of bed."

One may blame the rowdiness of certain neighborhoods or cities for the new security state.

"Are the people in this neighborhood prone to violent outbursts, or what?" I heard someone say, as they entered the local WAWA on a weekend night and counted four or five Philadelphia policemen standing in a row with their backs against the take-out sandwich counter. Seeing four police officers guarding an almost empty store was an extremely odd sight indeed.

Are things so bad in the Riverwards that it takes three or four Philadelphia police officers to "guard" a WAWA, where at first glance the worst "criminal" offenses there seem only to be insistent panhandlers (Mother Teresa's people), post-midnight drunks in multicolored Mohawks, lines at the gas pumps, or giggling girls rushing in for take-out snacks?

One can only presume that WAWA knows what they are doing, but the negative effect of seeing so many police guarding a WAWA can be misleading.

"Is your neighborhood turning into a slum?" a friend from out of town asked me several weeks ago. "Do you risk life and limb when going out for a cup of Hazelnut coffee? Has there been a shooting there?"

"No," I replied, "this neighborhood has always been super safe, and I know that most people here would like to keep it that way. "

Perhaps what I should have said is, "The guards are just standing around and waiting for that unknown something that may come down the pike..."