By Mike Jones (Major Security Consulting and Design) and Keith Fentress
“I’ll look like a traffic cone,” said a school security officer when being asked to don a bright orange polo shirt with SCHOOL SECURITY printed on front and back. I responded, “Yes, you will look like a traffic cone and that is exactly what we want - visibility.”
School security officers often do not have a standard uniform or set of responsibilities. They sometimes wear school colors or sports jerseys. During a recent school security assessment, we heard that the officers don’t wear a uniform so they can blend in and be less intimidating to the students. However, we have found significant benefits in NOT blending in, and in being noticed instead.
It is important to distinguish between a school resource officer and a school security officer. A school resource officer is typically a police officer or sheriff’s deputy who will likely wear a law enforcement uniform. A school security officer is employed by the school board and is not part of a police department or sheriff’s office. This article focuses on the school security officer.
Visibility. Bright orange is a color that can easily be seen. When wearing a bright orange shirt and baseball cap, a school security officer can easily be spotted in a packed hallway during class changes or at a football game where there are crowds of people.
Orange has become recognized as the color of caution and safety. Orange is readily displayed on traffic cones, safety vests, hunting apparel, warning signs, etc. The goal of wearing bright orange is for the color to attract attention by standing out against a busy and competing background.
Traditional law enforcement colors are black, blue, and khaki/brown. This apparel is designed for tactical reasons to blend in. School security officers are there to be seen.
Also, from a psychological perspective, orange is an uplifting color associated with warmth and happiness. Subconsciously, perhaps students are attracted to the warmth and positive messages conveyed by orange and will not see school security officers as intimidating.
Why Be Visible?
To be easily found
In a recent meeting, a school administrator mentioned that when visiting the various schools in her district, it was difficult to distinguish the security officers from other young adults and faculty. School security officers should be able to be easily found so they can be called on to help when needed.
Another common complaint from school security officers is that they sometimes worry about becoming a target by being so visible. While we certainly don’t want to make these officers a target, if a situation arises it is better for a trained security officer to be a target rather than the students. The security officer understands how to de-escalate violence and/or protect themselves and others during a crisis. It is the nature of their job.
To act as a deterrent
If someone is about to commit an act, whether small or large, that threatens the safety of the school’s occupants, they will be less likely to do so if they observe a school security officer in the vicinity. Just as with any type of enforcement position, a school security officer conveys authority and the rule of order – and the associated consequences that occur when rules are broken.
Officers should rarely congregate in one location for very long. However, while congregating and wearing bright orange, they are noticeable. As the saying goes, “There is strength in numbers.” Seeing multiple orange-clad officers can act as even more of a deterrent than a solo officer. When called for, groups of officers who are visibly clad represent a trained security unit ready to respond if needed. They can often de-escalate tensions by their presence alone.
We have seen school security officers from multiple schools combine forces to attend a football game where there was a rivalry and where fights were anticipated. We believe the visibility of the school security officers was one of the primary factors that contributed to an incident-free evening. In essence, seeing a group of school security officers clad in bright orange can be a force multiplier – the impact of the security presence is much greater than that of three uniformed officers. In a case like this, the sum is truly greater than the parts.
To put people at ease
School security officers should be on the move approximately 75% of the school day, patrolling halls, checking doors, and walking the exterior. This can actually help both students and faculty feel more at ease knowing that security personnel are on the lookout. The aim is never to make anyone - faculty included - feel uncomfortable. The aim is to keep the faculty and students safe from harm.
Having school security officers in orange visible during drop-off and pick-up can also help ease the tension of parents who are concerned about the safety of their children while in school. Parents will soon identify the security officers and feel that their child is in a safe environment.
Practical Lessons Learned
The first time we attempted to implement the bright orange dress code for school security officers, there was a lot of resistance. The officers felt the color was not fitting for a school security officer. Faculty members were worried about the security officers having an intimidating presence. Parents had questions about the “orange men and women.”
Because change is difficult, implementing an “orange policy” will require strong leadership and communication. We have found that openly communicating the role of the school security officers to students, faculty, and parents goes a long way in integrating this new presence into the school. Our local back-to-school nights include a brief introduction of the school security officer and the duties he/she will be performing. The officers have the opportunity to let parents know how they can help. Both written and verbal communications are important in keeping everyone united in doing their part to protect the safety of the school.
As school security officers become more entrenched in a school, they are often seen carrying out “other duties as assigned” to support school faculty and administrators. While everyone needs to be a team player, a school security officer should never do anything that detracts from his or her core job duties. School security officers are not there to be accepting FedEx packages, delivering the mail, raising the flag, driving students home, performing routine classroom management, unloading cars, or running errands. Their job is school security. It is important that anything they do beyond security is recognized as a voluntary favor and not a job requirement – and that it in no way takes their focus off school security. Having a clear policy will go a long way toward keeping the focus on the security and safety of students.
We have found that after several months of wearing orange, a pride develops with the school security officers, and the concerns of students and parents are replaced by the satisfaction that someone is looking out for everyone’s safety and security. One security officer who initially resisted the new color commented, “You can’t tear this orange shirt off me.”
When it comes to school security, orange is the new beacon of safety.