Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Monday | December 10, 2012
Home : Commentary
Security guards and the God complex
Security guards often have a tough job on two fronts: low pay, and motormouthed commuters.
Robert Lalah, Assistant Editor - Features

Well, he had a clipboard and wore his glasses low on his nose, so he definitely meant business. The trouble is, nobody seemed to care.

He was a pot-bellied security guard working at a Liguanea shopping mall's parking lot and he was in the middle of a verbal tussle with the driver of a red Corolla. It seemed the motorist had misplaced his exit pass, so you can picture the back-and-forth that unfolded as he tried to leave the lot.

The security guard would not be moved. No pass, no exit. No exceptions. Even as the crowd of onlookers swelled with an overwhelming majority showing support for the motorist, the bespectacled guard would not budge. No pass, no exit. No exceptions.

They tried reasoning with him. "You can look at his driver's licence and the papers for the car," someone suggested. That didn't work.

They appealed to his conscience. "It could happen to anybody. Suppose him have him pickney dem waiting on him?"

Still no change in the security guard's stance. No pass, no exit. No exceptions.

Pressure-cooker situation

Now it's important to note that everyone else who wanted to leave the parking lot had to wait, since the gate was locked and would remain so till the driver of the red Corolla produced an exit pass.

It wasn't long before people's patience completely ran out and the insults started. These involved several variations of the word 'clart', and were complex, violent and alarming, yet the security guard would not relent. No pass, no exit. No excuses.

You have to admire the guard's tenacity. I mean, he had a view of how things were to be done and he would not be swayed. You'd think he would have decided quickly that they don't pay him enough for this, and let the motorist and all his other foul-mouthed detractors be on their way. It certainly would have been the easier way to go.

I've always thought being a security guard was curious work. There's something rather strange about paying someone a touch above minimum wage, then expecting them to protect other people's lives and property. Sure, you give them a baton and a nifty uniform, but in a crisis, how much protection do we really expect from them?

If I were a security guard working at, say, a bank, and a band of robbers walked in to relieve the place of its inventory, I at least know that my response would be quick. I might not be the first to get to the nearest table to hide under it, but that's only if Usain Bolt happened to be there that day making a deposit.

God Syndrome

I guess that's the difference between me and the good men and women of the security guard world. Unfortunately, the sense of responsibility and power sometimes gets to their heads, leading to what is loosely referred to as 'security guard syndrome'. That's when they commit themselves so much to what they're doing that they temporarily forget that they aren't actually rulers of heaven and earth.

I remember turning in to one of those pay-to-park lots in New Kingston sometime ago. I was having pleasant words with the guard at the gate, who was telling me the cost and terms to park there. Then, his supervisor appeared. "I am in charge here!" he boomed. He then started repeating what the other guard had just told me. When I tried to explain that I already heard all this, all he would say is, "I am in charge here." Clearly, this was a case of Level 5 security guard syndrome.

It's a difficult job to be sure. I've lost count of all the times I've heard people promise to have security guards fired. This usually happens after the guards threaten to have their vehicles towed or clamped for being illegally parked. "Touch mi cyar and yuh see. One phone call and yuh lose yuh work."

Dealing with this all day can't be fun.

That's why I say it's fascinating that there are guards like the one in Liguanea who will go to such extremes. Underpaid, abused and maligned, he nevertheless had a job to do and was intent on seeing it though. Eventually, the police were called and the matter was sorted out. The guard got a curt reprimand from his supervisor for causing all this trouble and the newly freed motorists heckled him on their way out.

Still, that guard proved himself a man of his word that day. He took the job promising to uphold the rules, and that's what he tried to do. There's no shame in that, after all. No shame at all.

Robert Lalah is assistant editor - features, and author of the popular Tuesday feature 'Roving with Lalah'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and robert.lalah@gleanerjm.com

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