By Jeffrey A. Hawkins
There are probably no two topics that will cause more discussion and debate in the security industry than arming security officers and professional certifications.
Earlier this year we ran a couple of articles about arming security officers and – more than 500 comments later – the “discussion” continues to this day, some still quite heated.
A few months ago, I was at a security conference and ran into someone I had not physically seen in a year or so. During our conversation, he said: “You don’t have my updated information, here is my card” and he handed me his business card.
I looked at it, kind of chuckled and joked that he needs to add another line under his name just for all the certification initials he had listed. And I have to be honest, after 30+ years in this business, I could still not identify all of them.
Certifications are something I have thought about for a very long time and a topic I have discussed with numerous colleagues in law enforcement and security.
When I was much younger and new in law enforcement, I attended a lot of training and my “specialty” became being a Use of Force/Defense Tactics Instructor. I was “certified” in many things, such as empty hand tactics, handcuffing/restraints, OC spray, stun-gun (not to be confused with a Taser), and all types of impact weapons as they developed (i.e. straight baton, PR-24, expandable baton).
I was a “certified” instructor in each of these areas and trained many police officers and security personnel through the years.
However, reality set in early when several fellow officers on my shift were involved in an officer-involved shooting during a chase that was accidental and thankfully not fatal. The city attorney had a debriefing with us and that was the first time I heard about the extent of liability and training and “certifications.”
This attorney spoke about how when you are on the witness stand in court the opposing attorneys will study all the training you have received and then proceed to tear it apart, including any use of the word “certified.”
He explained that being “certified” is only as good as who certified you and the methods and material they used. He stated you may be good at what you have been trained and certified in, but if the person or organization who certified you was not credible, your certification doesn’t mean much, especially in a court of law.
After I left law enforcement and entered the security field, there were not that many security certifications out there. There was one that was available and everyone thought was THE security professional certification to have and I had to wonder how true it was.
But everyone told me I had to have it if I was going to be a true security professional and it was very difficult to attain; so I started to study for it. Then one day I was speaking to a colleague, who had this certification and the initials after his name. To put it mildly, he was not the sharpest guy, and when he told me he passed the test after one try, I asked him how much he had studied for it; he told me not at all.
He went on to state that it was multiple-choice test and he guessed at pretty much all the questions. His theory was he had several tries, his company was paying for him to take the test, and he figured he would give guessing a shot first. And he passed.
I never took the test or obtained this one certification, not only because of this incident, but because I was busy raising a family and finishing my college degrees. And I did advance in the field, despite not having this certification.
When I would go in for job interviews for security management positions, or even later when I consulted with businesses to help them develop new security management positions for their company, I would have human resources people tell me that this certification was mandatory for the position.
When I asked them what these initials stood for and what having this certification would add to the effectiveness of this position, most didn’t know. Most would admit that the reason they required it was because they saw it on other security management job advertisements so they figured it was needed.
During the last three decades many other certifications within the security industry have emerged; some seem reputable, some not so much.
After September 11th occurred I received numerous mailings about becoming a “certified” Homeland Security Expert. The material stated because of my experience, training and education I could become certified—along with about $300.00–so I decided to pass.
Now that I’m on the academic side of the business, I view professional certifications a little differently.
American Public University System has an academic team that, on a regular basis, reviews all types of training and certifications for university credit, not just in the security field.
I believe it has been very successful for a couple reasons:
- It is an independent (and free) review of all aspects of how the certification or training is conducted. There are all types of things that have to be provided and demonstrated to the review team.
- If the training or certification is positively reviewed and becomes eligible for university credit, it gives the organization conducting the training or certification some added credibility to the certification.
Working with different companies and organizations now, I get the opportunity to see various security trainings and certifications up close and I have a better understanding of why some of them can pass academic review and some cannot.
So questions still linger in my mind regarding being “certified.”
What is the value of having certifications? Does having those initials after your name make a more professional and knowledge security practitioner? How many certifications should or can a person have?