Saturday, January 16, 2010

Political Correctness and Security

Like it or not, political correctness – loosely defined as being consciously cautious of doing or saying anything to minimalize or denigrate any particular group – is here to stay. And like it or not, political correctness is an impediment to good security.

As a career security practitioner, I have had to deal with a great diversity of persons and ideas. And even if I do say so myself, I am one of the least biased persons I know – I believe I am tolerant of just about everyone and everything...until I have some reason to not be tolerant. And therein lies the problem with political correctness.

Perhaps – I hope – it’s just a matter of our not finding a more appropriate term in our American-English language. But I think that we sometimes confuse political correctness with a legitimate response to facts; and when we deal with facts, political correctness should take a back seat. Let me illustrate:

Retail establishments frequently utilize security personnel to guard against thievery. When a review of theft incidents over a lengthy period of time factually determines that 83% of apprehensions for theft were of black (or white or yellow or brown) females between the ages of 15 and 24, why should it be considered politically incorrect to focus surveillance activities on the persons of that particular demographic? In fact, wouldn’t a store security agent be remiss in his duties if he ignored such documented facts and trends?

The groups “offended” by acts of political incorrectness have become so outraged and vocal that some of us have become overly cautious in our interactions. We choose our words and our actions so carefully that we almost never say what is really on our minds or say what we really mean – even when it is the truth. In fact, it is almost impossible to say or do anything that will not “offend” someone’s sensitivities.

But even when that is the case, security practitioners should not – and cannot – let the quest for political correctness override their protective responsibilities. No, we should not target or accuse anyone needlessly; but neither should we look the other way when facts clearly demonstrate that someone or some group bears additional scrutiny. We cannot ignore the female customers in the store per the example above; we cannot ignore the black driver cruising the white neighborhood at 3:00 AM; we cannot ignore the young Middle Eastern man buying a one-way ticket with cash at the airline counter. When we have objectively gathered the facts and the facts reveal distinct patterns, we cannot ignore those patterns for the sake of being politically correct. We must continue to use the information available to us to be diligent in the performance of our duties, for to do otherwise is in itself a serious abrogation of our responsibility.

Come to think of it, I guess I’m not being politically correct just by questioning political correctness.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Dichotomy of Security

We can’t have it both ways:

We want to be safe in our homes and in our everyday lives; but we don’t want to “waste” our free time by joining the neighborhood watch or by calling the police when we see something suspicious.

We want to feel safe in our workplaces, in our offices and parking areas, and we want our business visitors to feel safe and welcome; but we don’t want to have to use an access card or biometric reader to enter our workplaces or parking lots and we don’t want to be surveilled while we work and we don’t want to inconvenience our visitors by having them sign in.

We want to be safe on our streets; but we don’t want “Big Brother” watching us on surveillance cameras or to have police patrols randomly questioning us.

We want good service and low prices at the stores in which we shop; but we don’t want store security personnel watching us on surveillance cameras or following us while we shop.

We want banks to keep our money safe, and to make it available to us at a moment’s notice; but we don’t want to give our fingerprints to make a withdrawal or to have to remember and change our account passwords.

We want to move quickly and easily through airports and we want our flights to be safe; but we don’t want long security checkpoint lines or intrusive body searches or have our bags poked and prodded and inspected by security personnel.

We want to feel safe in our nation and we don’t want terrorists on our shores; but we complain about our taxes and criticize the military for their actions and want to afford terrorist detainees the same rights and protections as we citizens enjoy.

And on and on and on........

In other words – we want to be free and safe, but we want none of the prices that have to be paid to remain that way.

Unfortunately, we can’t have it both ways.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Security Challenges for 2010 (and beyond)

Based on history and experience, security challenges in 2010 will not diminish – in fact, they will probably grow. Here is my forecast:

1. The economy will continue to play a big part as related to security challenges. As (or if) the economy strengthens, business will focus on regaining that which was lost (sales, market share, profitability, etc.) and will tend to ignore (or at least overlook) maintaining what it still has. This means that security and loss prevention issues will probably remain overlooked until and unless specific and serious problems arise.

2. Strong security leadership will continue to erode. Security executives will be so busy focusing on keeping their jobs and covering their posteriors (the two go hand-in-hand) that they will continue to overlook doing what is really necessary to protect the organizations they serve. Political correctness will abound, usually at the expense of truly good security.

3. Because security is still viewed in many organizations as a necessary evil rather than as a necessary business partner, security functions will remain relegated to lower-level importance and responsibility. This, coupled with #2 above (the erosion of strong security leadership) will continue the seemingly-endless cycle.

4. Because of all of the above, it will be difficult to develop the next generation of competent security leadership. When employees see the difficulties and roadblocks faced by their executives, there is little incentive to aspire to those positions.

So is the future, beginning in 2010, totally bleak? No. These are predictions, not unchangeable destiny. We as both an industry and individual practitioners/professionals must continue to clearly demonstrate and promote the value of our service. We need the few remaining strong leaders to sound the trumpets and beat the drums to show corporate executives that security is part of the fabric that keeps organizations together, healthy and prosperous. We must continue to prove that protecting assets is as important as generating new sales. In short, we must convince our bosses that security is an important, vital and integral part of every business.

The fate of security rests in our own hands. If we practitioners fail in the primary task of the self-promotion of ourselves and our industry, we have no one but ourselves to blame when my predictions become self-fulfilling prophecy.