By Cindy Atoji Keene
They’re known as “office creepers” – thieves who sneak into workplaces, posing as employees or service personnel, looking for unattended cubicles where they can steal laptops, purses, and even data stored on hard drives or USB flashes. It’s just one security threat that Cristina Machado has to watch out for in the 38-floor Boston high-rise where she works as a security manager of an enforcement force of 40 officers. “With the economy tanking, we are definitely seeing more activity,” said Machado, 30, of G4S Secure Solutions. Machado said that the safety concerns that exist today are quite different than when she first started as a mall security officer over a decade ago. There has been a rise in workplace violence, property vandalism, vehicle break-ins, and parking lot muggings and other crimes. The security realm in the U.S. is a $100 billion industry, deploying protection in healthcare facilities, industrial plants, residential communities, universities, and other facilities, according to the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), which is pushing for consistent minimum standards for the training of security guard. “People tend to look down on security officers, but we take our job very seriously,” said Machado, of Fall River.
Machado initially planned on using the security industry as a stepping stone to enter the criminal justice field but found herself wrapped up in the day-to-day demands of being on the ground level of mall security. “It was a great place to start because you deal with everything there, from customer disputes to leaky roofs,” said Machado, who said that a stabbing a center court taught her that although her job might seem routine at times, constant vigilance was crucial. Although the amount of training that security guards receive varies according to employer, Machado said that she has been instructed on crisis deterrence, first aid, report writing, emergency response procedures, as well as firearms training.
Q: Have you ever had to use your gun in a crisis situation?
A: No, it is meant more as a deterrent. We work hand-in-hand with police departments for law enforcement. But you would be surprised as how just the presence of a security officer can be a deterrent for criminals. For example, a security guard standing outside a banking center can represent enough of a challenge to turn a potential robber away.
Q: How is much of your job centered around merely observing and reporting?
A: I need to see things that might look normal to the average bystander. One of the first things I look for is body language or situations that send up a warning flag, such as a car parked too close to a building or an abandoned package. The ability to process a lot of information at once is essential. One man, for example, didn’t have an access card and kept insisting he wanted to go upstairs to see his girlfriend and give her flowers. It sounded like a good story, but when we called her, she said, “Oh my god, please don’t let him up.”
Q: You’re supervising 40 different security guards. How do you keep everyone focused?
A: One of my favorite methods is to rotate assignments – familiarity can make it harder to remain alert, so I’ll send someone to do an exterior patrol, then interior, then the loading dock. Keeping the situation fresh really helps.
Q: As a female security officer, are you in the minority?
A: When I first started here, it was a little difficult in the beginning, especially with older men, who tested me to see how much they could get away with. I had to gain respect.
Q: Do you have to wear one of those cowboy hats?
A: Some companies have security guards wear those hats; as a supervisor, I just wear a suit to work, but previously I wore either a military dress type uniform or tactical-style
garb. It’s all about the image companies want their officers to portray.