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Security staffing in a recovering economy


The experts tell us we have finally hit the bottom and are on a slow (very slow) recovery back to prosperity, profits and prominence. So, you made it. You survived. You weathered the weekly onslaught of nagging and threatening from your bosses to cut, cut, cut. Now you can start rebuilding your security department and get back to normal.

Wait a minute. Not so fast.

If you think you are going back to your budget of five years ago, go ask your boss. Go ahead. I will wait here for you until you to come back.

That conversation did not go quite as you had hoped, did it? The reality is that dealing with a rising economy is going to be just as difficult—if not more so—than those bad times that we thought were behind us. With some tricks that we learned on the way down, we can rise to the top as we come out of the down economy.

The New Normal

Most casino executives will tell you that if there is one lesson they learned during this recession, it was that a casino actually can run more efficiently and less expensively. After all, did you not cut your staff by X percent? And is the building still standing? Nobody was seriously hurt; no major losses? At least not more so than when you had a larger staff, right? The fact is, you did the same job, under most of the same circumstances, and you did it with less money. So what general manager in his/her right mind would let you go back to those old days of inefficiency?

Hopefully, during that time you found some clever ways to save money without sacrificing safety. Maybe you cut a level or two of supervision. Perhaps you found some creative ways to schedule officers without using as much overtime. You probably even found ways of eliminating some of the superfluous tasks and costs associated with your department. If you are like me, you also found that your staff has acclimated quite nicely to the “new normal.” Morale is up, costs are down, and our guests and property are doing just fine. Instead of looking back, let’s capitalize on our accomplishments and move forward.

Going Forward

Here are a few suggestions that will satisfy the boss, the lawyers and your staff.

First of all, wherever your budget and staffing levels are—down here at the bottom—consider that to be your baseline. This is your minimum from which you can cut no more. If that “bottom” happened months ago, then back it up to that time, and that is your base. This base is the minimum number of staff (payroll) that you need to adequately protect your facility and the people in it.

If this minimum is too low, you will know it because you have had bad things happen. Rising property losses on the floor or in the parking or hotel areas mean that you need to adjust your minimum. In fact, it probably means you were not covering these areas adequately, and need to adjust your minimum to include coverage of them. Once that is done, you have a base of how many officers are required to protect the property (or, in lawyer-speak, prevent claims of inadequate security).

You should have a metric that looks something like this: 10 officers for 100 occupied hotel rooms; or 100 officers for a casino head count of 1,000, and so forth. For your count, use whatever metric reasonably reflects how busy your property is. This could be number of cars in your parking lot, employees on duty, occupied rooms or slots, etc.

Now that we have a reasonable base (minimum) number of staff, we can talk about raising it incrementally with business volume. Suppose the revenue (which is tied to our volume metric) goes up 10 percent (our boss would like that, and I like it because these are easy numbers to work with). It seems reasonable to everyone that if you have 10 officers on a shift and business goes up by 10 percent, then your manpower needs to go up by 10 percent. That is one officer. Does this seem too simple?

Of course it is simple, but this is how every other revenue-producing department operates. Cost of sales goes up incrementally with revenue. Manpower is your cost of sales. You already staff this way in your nightclub, for example. Say you need three officers just to open the doors of the club. Then you add one officer as the head count goes up every 150 persons or so. Same idea.

This is a much easier concept to sell to your boss than the old way. The old way would have been to go back to the C-suite and justify rehiring the 30 people you eliminated over the last four years, just because things are starting to look up. It just is not reasonable. But asking for a couple more positions because business is up 5 percent is certainly reasonable and affordable.

From the Lawyer

This is one time when the company lawyer is your friend. Knowing that you cut staff when times were tough, he or she definitely wants you to increase staff as business gets better. Lawyers will have a hard time defending an inadequate security claim if you operate with manpower that does not rise with business levels. Exploit this new friendship to your advantage and get the lawyer’s opinion on increasing staffing levels. This is a good ally to use when you make the case for more security.

Speaking of lawsuits, are you and your staff still walking around complaining about being “short-handed” because you operate with less staff than before? Time to knock it off. This will hurt you bad when that opposing lawyer puts your employees on the stand and asks them about staffing in front of a jury. The fact is, you are adequately staffed based on the history and formulas we just presented above. Get your people to buy in to that premise or all of this other stuff is a waste of time.

Security Standards

People ask all the time about using industry standards to set staffing levels. How nice it would be to calculate our manpower based on square footage, number of hotel rooms, or employees. After all, hospitals, prisons, police departments, even schools do this. The fact is, there just are not any such standards in the casino business—or the hotel industry, for that matter. For good reason. Every casino is different. The locations differ, the neighborhood and market environments vary drastically, and most of all, they cater to a variety of clientele. The only standard you can use is the one you set for yourself.

Though we do not have standards, we do have best practices. Best practices are procedures and strategies used by successful companies that have proven them in court—or at least in the business world. Examples of best practices in our world are: one officer in each hotel tower; two officers on a pit drop; one officer for every 125 nightclub patrons, and so on.

Of course, even these can vary depending on specific circumstances, but the strategy here is to meet the precedent set by your competitors or exceed them. If your neighbor casino of about the same size and business level operates with 25 officers on a shift and you have 15, that is not going to look good if you have a robbery or a shooting. There may be good reason why those numbers are different, but you’d better be able to explain them without using the word “money.”

Working Smarter

When some of us started in this business, the security deployment strategy was to hire tough-looking guys and give them a pair of handcuffs. Training was whatever they could absorb along the way. We made up for our lack of skills with our sheer numbers. Quantity over quality.

Fortunately, this philosophy was discarded with mechanical slot machines. Even better for us, we learned during the past few years that security officers who are smarter and better-trained and equipped can save money, protect assets, and provide guest service that promotes business. You have to admit: Those bottom-feeders in your department really stick out when there are fewer on the floor doing the same work.

Ideally, those who were slowing you down eliminated themselves during your downsizing, and you have an experienced, efficient, lean staff of professionals. Hiring and training the way you did in the past would be like taking a step backward. If you are going to bring on new officers gradually as we discussed above, then do it right.

Create a training program that gets that new employee up to the level of your other officers so he or she can fit right into the new team. Hiring a bad attitude or slow learning level now will slow down the team at a time when they cannot afford it. You can be selective if you are hiring two officers rather than the 30 you wanted to bring back. Make some good decisions here, and take your time.

Another way to work smarter is to prevent problems rather than react to them. One casino, for instance, was having all sorts of difficulties when several of the neighborhood bars would close. The drunks would stumble out and walk through the casino to go to their cars, hotel rooms or wherever. There were fights and vandalism and accidents as a result of this increase in “traffic” walking through the property at about 3 a.m.

The security team was stretched to its limit responding to fights, taking accident reports, or investigating minor property losses. This was all at a time when manpower was thin and officers were doing those fun drops and other business functions. In the old days, we might have hired more officers to take care of these calls. This was not an option, so the manager simply did not allow any breaks, drops, or routine duties to occur between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. He posted those “extra” officers in the area to prevent trouble. Problem solved, without any extra expense.

The Comfort Zone

Many of us have become creative wizards with our manpower during this period of decreased spending. No doubt you have already learned how to run a shift (again); your supervisors can cover breaks; your lost-and-found clerk is doing things never imagined previously for the good of the department. This new way of doing business is not over—take it a step further.

First of all, seeing you and your management team on the floor is a huge morale booster, so keep it up. Second, cross-training clerks, dispatchers and even surveillance officers is only going to make everyone better at what they do and probably more committed. Third, try some crazy ideas: How about the entire management team wears uniforms?

Maybe the secretary wears a name tag and walks the floor twice a day. “Deputize” your bell persons, cleaning staff or slot personnel to be extra eyes and ears for you—they can also perform valuable duties during emergencies.

Ask your compliance folks why all those drops on grave shift overlap and cause you to tie up bodies. Put them on a linear schedule that ties up one or two officers at a time. Find out why you do an incident report for stuck elevators, guests with kidney stones, or missing picture frames. These are just examples to get you to think why you do things the way you do them, so you can increase your staffing without spending (too much) money.

Finally, Recovery

Recovering from this recession, if that is what this is, does not have to be difficult or involve a battle with your higher-ups. It just requires a basic understanding of the business and being able to communicate in the same language as the ones controlling your budget.

Show them that you have maximized your efficiency (finding your base line, honing your staff, and using everyone to their potential), and then justify increasing it at a reasonable rate that keeps cost to a minimum and results to a maximum.

Good luck to all of us!

Darrell Clifton, CPP, is the director of security at Circus Circus Reno. He is an instructor in the Gaming Management Program at University of Nevada at Reno and is a member of the Hospitality, Entertainment and Tourism Council for ASIS International.

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