My desire for a career in law enforcement began when I was 21, still in college, and completely green behind the ears. I started as an intern and went on to serve in both sworn and civilian capacities for three law enforcement departments. I now work for a company that performs security assessments for police departments and other government facilities.
Serving in these different roles throughout the course of my career has provided me the opportunity to see police stations in different ways – first as a police officer and now as a security assessor. My past experience in law enforcement certainly helps with my security assessment responsibilities, but I also think about security differently. As police officers, we focus so much on protecting the public, ourselves, and our fellow officers that we often overlook the security needs in our own stations.
What is a Security Assessment?
I recently had the privilege of performing an assessment for a county seeking to improve security across all of the police stations in its jurisdiction. I was part of a team that assessed the conditions of the facilities and revised the security standards for the stations. The assessments included the exterior of the buildings and the surrounding property, the interior of the facilities, and electronic security measures.
A security assessment includes identifying and documenting comprehensive security needs at a police station or across a portfolio of stations. The assessment helps determine a baseline of security, which can be used to perform a gap analysis to recommend security improvements. Coupling the recommendations to “fill the gap” with estimated costs can help a police department prioritize how it will spend its security dollars.
Conducting security assessments of police stations has provided an eye-opening view into the wide breadth of security measures that are in place to protect police department personnel and property.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
Our security assessments are grounded in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED is based on the principle that proper design and effective use of space can reduce crime.
As protests have become a more regular occurrence outside of police stations, the need to apply CPTED strategies to protect buildings and personnel has become more apparent. Some security and safety hazards that can be mitigated by applying CPTED principles include:
- River rocks used in landscaping can be thrown at the building or personnel
- Climbable trees near a secured fence line can enable an intruder to gain access to secured areas
- Signs identifying reserved parking spaces can reveal the identities of personnel in the building to the public
The list above only skims the surface of potential threats to police stations and personnel. These concerns never crossed my mind as a beat officer working hard to make it home after each shift.
Hindsight is 20/20
I have a different view on police safety in my current role as a security assessor than I did while I worked in law enforcement. I think back to the experiences I had with the three departments where I worked and realize that there certainly could have been improvements in security.
For example, police officers and personnel parked their vehicles in a public lot with no card access, gate, or other security features. I now understand the importance of police officers having a dedicated parking lot surrounded by an anti-climb security fence with proximity card access. Ideally, the secured parking area should have two gates for ingress/egress.
As an officer, I also frequently observed police personnel propping the doors to the station open, often for an extended period of time, as they transported gear or other bulky items. External doors should have position switches and an alarm that triggers at the control post if a door is left open or opened unexpectedly.
The stations where I worked did not have duress alarms in the evidence room. This is a concern because exposure to fentanyl and other harmful narcotics can potentially be lethal. Having a duress alarm and preferably CCTV camera coverage in the evidence room can save lives.
These are just a few examples of the security measures that I understand the importance of now but was not familiar with when serving in law enforcement.
Always Watch Your Six
Officers are taught to always watch their back (or “six” in law enforcement lingo) by keeping their heads on a swivel and constantly watching their surroundings. When officers end their shifts and approach station parking lots, they typically do not have their guard up in the same way that they would while patrolling the streets. Stations are often viewed by officers as a safe haven where they can relax and not constantly watch their six.
However, to protect those that protect us, police stations should have proper security so that law enforcement officers can relax when they’re not on the streets.
Police officers typically undergo extensive training in firearms, defensive tactics, and driving, and many find the training fun. However, it is also important for officers to be trained in aspects of security that relate to their protecting their stations. Law enforcement personnel can do the following to help keep their stations safe:
- Become certified in CPTED - there are several organizations offering certification courses
- Undergo training on security features and practices in the police station
- Report issues or malfunctions with security cameras, doors, and alarms
- Routinely test alarms to ensure they are operating properly
- Regularly update policies and procedures related to security
In these changing times, it is not enough for law enforcement officers to watch their own six. Personnel must also be vigilant at watching the police station to protect their colleagues from harm.
A Change in Perspective
I know that as a security assessor I cannot make recommendations to protect police personnel from every possible threat against them, but I can work my hardest to recommend strategies that will greatly enhance security. I appreciate the perspectives I have gained throughout my career in law enforcement. Today, as I work with a team that has decades of experience to make these facilities safer, I welcome the opportunity to help keep my law enforcement comrades safe.