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Requirements to Become a Private Security Vs. Police Officer

by Karen Farnen

Private security guards handle a number of responsibilities, from enforcing property rules and guarding against crime to checking in visitors and patrolling the grounds. They might work for corporations, schools, hospitals, office buildings, casinos, hotels and stadiums. In contrast, police officers work for local, state and federal government agencies to enforce laws, protect people and property, solve crimes and apprehend suspects. The job requirements for police officers are usually higher than those for private security guards.

Security Basics

The basic requirements for a security guard largely depend on the employer. Although some employers don't have any formal educational requirement, most require at least a high school diploma or the equivalent. Some employers prefer to hire guards with postsecondary training or a degree in criminal justice, police science or security. Security guards need sufficient physical strength and fitness to respond in emergencies, and many jobs require a driver's license. They must also meet the legal requirements of their state, such as a minimum age of 18.

Police Basics

The minimum education needed for a police officer varies from a high school diploma to a college degree. However, many officers have some college, a degree or military training. Most jobs require a minimum age of 21, U.S. citizenship and a valid driver's license. In addition, candidates must pass written and physical exams, including tests of hearing, eyesight and physical strength. Numerous interviews, background checks, lie detector tests and drug tests are other typical requirements, and a felony conviction usually disqualifies you. Jobs with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies have higher requirements, including a mandatory college degree.

Job Training

Although newly-hired security and police officers both receive job training, police training is more comprehensive. The length of security guard training depends on the employer, but usually includes emergency response and how to handle suspects. Police departments usually send recruits to police academy, where classes cover police ethics, local and state laws, first aid, emergency response and firearms. In addition to class instruction, new recruits also receive work experience under supervision from experienced officers.

Licensing and Certification

Security guards must fulfill licensing requirements in most states. Although these vary, typical requirements include a minimum age, class training and a clear background check. Armed guards receive more rigorous screening to qualify for weapons licensing, including a criminal record check and fingerprinting. In addition, security guards can demonstrate their expertise via optional certification through ASIS International, which offers three certifications based on education, experience and examination. On the other hand, police officers receive legal certification from their jurisdictions when they pass exams at the end of training.

Other Requirements

Security guards need good communication skills to deal effectively with others, including other officers and suspected wrongdoers. They must be good observers, honest and quick to make appropriate decisions in emergencies. Police officers need all these skills and more. They have a large amount of paperwork to complete, requiring an ability to multitask. As public employees, they need an orientation to service and empathy toward others. In addition, the need to take charge in emergencies requires strong leadership capabilities.

Career Comparison

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of jobs for security guards and gaming surveillance officers to increase 19 percent between 2010 and 2020. That's above the 14 percent projected growth rate for all occupations as well as the 7 percent rate for police officers and detectives. The average annual income of security guards was $27,240 as of 2012, while police and sheriff's patrol officers averaged $57,770 annually.

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