We're all in this together

Dangerous times, constricted budgets and personnel shortages lend new respect to public-private partnerships

     Rosenburg says the company's officers are well-trained, highly motivated and responsible. "Trust is built from experience. Our responsibilities are clearly articulated and we have the capacity to do the job."

     The company trains its officers to the specific demands of each program. "We bring industry-specific training programs that are tailored to fit the institution," Rosenburg says.

After the storm

     Industry giant Day & Zimmermann Security Services also works a school beat — one of the toughest in the country — that of the New Orleans School District.

     Thrown into disarray by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans schools have been struggling with everything from lack of facilities to abandoned children. Mike Cooley, vice president of operations for Day & Zimmermann, and Michael Guidry, founder and CEO of The Guidry Group, an "international consultancy specializing in security risk auditing and management," talked to Law Enforcement Technology about their association with the New Orleans schools and that city's police department.

     Guidry says his company became involved with the project when it received a call from the Louisiana governor's office stating a need for inside security when the schools reopened. Many of the students being served by the district had not been in school for a long time due to the effects of the hurricane. Some of those kids had lost their parents to the storm. Others had been abandoned by theirs. The school population would be a mixture like none the system had ever before served.

     "There were a lot of different issues," Guidry says, summing up the situation.

     The New Orleans Police Department also faced many challenges. "They were completely undermanned and over-tasked," Guidry says. His job — and the job of Day & Zimmermann (Guidry chose the firm to provide the guards for the project) — was to make it work no matter what. One of the most important aspects would be to smooth the interface between the guards and law enforcement, while fully recognizing the parameters of the task at hand.

     The job started in an atmosphere of flux and confusion. The school district had a monumental task ahead of it in that not only did it confront infrastructure, equipment and personnel issues, but also children facing enormous upheaval and challenges all their own.

     Guidry says often the company's biggest hurdle is that the client sometimes wants more than a security officer can give. "They think we have the same training capabilities (as law enforcement)," he says. Although security officers are now better trained than at any time in previous history, the training they receive complements the scope of their jobs. They are on school campuses in New Orleans to provide safety, security, accountability and back-up for an already thin and overworked law enforcement presence.

     School campuses, especially in the larger cities, are hot zone targets for drugs and violence. School system administrators must supplement sworn officers — who are in short supply in most municipalities anyway — with private security. And because of the high visibility of campus incidents, security companies are making sure they put their best-trained foot forward, and not only because they want to do a good job, but because the challenges are more complex. "We simply have a more violent society," Guidry says.

     Cooley agrees the level of violence in the school system is one of the company's biggest concerns. He says Day & Zimmermann's officers are trained to deal properly with these types of incidents. "In fights, (including) gang fights, they tend to be in the middle of it," he notes.

     Students at the schools enter through metal detectors operated by Day & Zimmermann officers. Security officers search for knives, guns and drugs. Police augment the security forces whenever incidents escalate to criminal offenses for which an arrest would not be unreasonable.

     And that's not all they are up against. Robert Moore, Day & Zimmermann district manager in New Orleans, says security also works proactively, as in one recent case where his company's officers discovered students had secreted weapons in holes dug just outside the school grounds.

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