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Security Guards

Significant Points

Security guards are trained more in the methods and techniques for detecting and repelling attempts at trespass, sabotage, and theft of property. Typically, security guards prevent, respond to, and/or resist attempted violations, apprehend and detain offenders, and turn over cases and violators to police or other law enforcement officers.

Nature of the Work

The primary mission of security guard programs is to protect Federal property from hazards such as sabotage, espionage, trespass, theft, fire, and accidental or willful damage and destruction. Security guards are employed in Government-owned or controlled buildings, hospitals, museums, libraries, manufacturing plants, warehouses, military installations, and other facilities.

Security guards wear uniforms, display badges of authority, and may carry weapons. They are often organized along military lines and make use of military ranks and working titles (i.e., sergeant, lieutenant, etc.). Security guards apprehend and detain violators of laws, rules, and regulations and turn them over to Federal or civil police or other law enforcement officers for arrest and/or posting of collateral.

Security guards serve at fixed posts or patrol assigned areas on foot or by vehicle and perform a variety of protective duties. They enforce pertinent administrative rules and regulations governing traffic control, parking, building or other facility access, and breaches in physical security controls (locks, fences, gates, or other barriers). When enforcing rules and regulations established to accomplish the protective mission, guards control the movement of persons and protect lives and personal property in and around the Federal property being protected. Guards in hospitals may be required to help in dealing with patients who are mentally ill and others whose actions are influenced by distress associated with their medical condition. Security guards carry out related duties such as escorting persons and valuables, driving emergency vehicles, detecting and reporting potential fire and accident hazards, making preliminary checks of violations, conducting canine operations to detect explosives or illegal drugs, and preparing reports of incidents or security conditions.

Some security guards may be assigned "control desk" duties; i.e., monitoring various alarm systems, closed circuit television systems, and telephone and radio networks. Guards serving at the control desk relay messages, maintain logs, and assist in dispatching personnel and equipment to meet emergency situations. Security guards exercise their authority most often by administering rules and regulations, rather than laws, totally within the confines of Federally owned or controlled property under exclusive jurisdiction. Some installations negotiate concurrent jurisdiction or similar cooperative action agreements with local law enforcement authorities as a means for turning over serious violators for arrest based on formal complaints by guard personnel. Testimony as complaining witnesses, issuance of citations, and detention of individuals are generally recognized as valid performance of security guard duties by a variety of Federal and civil courts. Some Federal installations maintain facilities for short- or long-range detention of prisoners. These may be military guardhouses, holding cells in Federal buildings, detention centers on Indian reservations, or others that are used to hold prisoners serving sentences, awaiting trial, or pending turnover to other jurisdictions. Some security guards serve as guards in such facilities. They receive prisoners, control personal possessions, place prisoners in cells, transport prisoners to and from court, prevent escape, release to others for transport to court or other detention facilities, and generally see to the care and feeding of prisoners in their custody. Their primary purpose is to receive, prevent escape, and assure proper documentation for release of prisoners.

The primary emphasis in security guard training is typically directed to the methods and techniques involved in protecting specific Government property. Though much of the training may be given on the job, specifically tailored to local installation requirements, some security guards may receive formal training similar to that given to police officers. In some work environments where special security procedures are in effect, training may stress specialized methods for detecting and interdicting efforts to breach the security systems and means for preventing espionage and sabotage. Training for specialized security conditions may include developing proficiency in military tactics for small unit operations and qualifying with automatic and other military weapons. Some guards demonstrate their skills in performing emergency response actions by periodically reacting to simulated attempts to breach security barriers.

Security Guard, GS-0085-04

At this level, security guards use knowledge of commonly used rules, procedures, and operations to perform work independently in a variety of fixed posts and patrol assignments within a Federal installation or building. This level of knowledge is typically acquired through formal classroom and/or on-the-job training which outlines the scope of jurisdictional boundaries, defines the levels of each security guard's authority, and prepares the security guard to perform a variety of recurring activities within the assigned installation. Typically, security guards will protect the scene of an incident and relinquish control to police or other law enforcement officers assigned to the case.

Some security guards use knowledge of local rules, regulations, and operating requirements in receiving, guarding, and caring for prisoners in small detention centers (jails) on Federal installations and reservations.

Typical guard duties using this level of knowledge include such tasks as:

-- Controlling personnel access by monitoring the identification of individuals entering controlled areas.

-- Referring persons who lack proper credentials to a control point to arrange access.

-- Patrolling a prescribed area on an installation (by vehicle or foot) to check locks, alarms, fences, gates, or other barriers to assure they are closed and locked or open and unlocked, depending on the time of day and the conditions that are supposed to apply.

-- Patrolling installation perimeters to detect faulty fences and detection equipment, trespassing violations, and attempted thefts of Federal or personal property.

-- Patrolling office and industrial buildings to prevent theft or damage to Federal property, equipment, tools, and supplies.

Security Guard, GS-0085-05

At this level, security guards use knowledge of a body of established rules, procedures, and methods of operating to perform independently the full range of guard activities at Federal installations. These activities may involve a diverse range of protective responsibilities over Federal property, employees, and visitors. Knowledge of specialized operating requirements, methods, and procedures is used in safeguarding sensitive national defense materials or processes; protecting national treasures such as gold bullion, works of art, literary collections, and historical artifacts in Government buildings, libraries, museums, and other locations under Federal control; enforcing specialized personnel access controls; protecting and preventing unauthorized access to areas containing valuable documents or hazardous materials that could affect public health or safety; detaining violators who attempt to resist; subduing violent patients in hospitals; and other situations requiring special training and experience.

Security guard work using this level of knowledge includes:

-- Controlling access to highly sensitive restricted areas where there is potential for significant breach of national security, or danger to public safety or public health. Examples of such circumstances may include installations involved in manufacturing and storing nuclear weapons; manufacturing or research facilities involving highly classified national defense information and/or processes; hospital and research installations where there is significant potential for releasing materials that could seriously endanger public health; and other facilities containing materials or processes that require special protective methods.

Security Guard, GS-0085-07

Security Guards at this level, in addition to the knowledges required at the lower levels, use knowledge of an extensive body of standardized, optional, and innovative investigative procedures, techniques, and methods to detect, investigate, and resolve crimes and other incidents that are beyond the scope or requirements for solution on patrol assignments. Security Guards use this level of knowledge in performing a variety of standard and nonstandard assignments in resolving a wide range of conditions or criminal activities typically requiring extensive research, interviewing, planning, observing, conducting stakeout operations, and executing investigative techniques, resulting in arrests of suspects and, in some instances, in changes in patrol operating methods.

Employees using this level of knowledge perform tasks such as:

-- Conducting long- and short-term investigations when solutions cannot be achieved during the course of a normal patrol shift.

-- Evaluating crime prevention programs and recommending changes to reduce opportunities for theft, assault, illegal entry, or other kinds of violations.

-- Conducting long-term investigations (several days to several weeks) to detect and apprehend individuals committing acts of violence, theft of Federal or personal property, for violating laws concerning controlled substances.

-- Developing informants and informant networks as a part of specific assignments or for general application.

-- Developing and following leads, taking statements, and otherwise gathering bits of information and facts.

-- Analyzing facts to identify suspects and develop case information for use in pressing charges and bringing suspects to trial.

-- Coordinating with U.S. and other prosecuting attorneys on case development and plans to perform arrests and prosecutions.

-- Developing cover conditions and working under cover to detect and prevent criminal activities.

-- Coordinating with other law enforcement agencies to gather facts or evidence for use in assigned cases.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Generally, there are no specific education requirements for security guards, but employers usually prefer to fill armed guard positions with people who have at least a high school diploma. Gaming surveillance officers often need some education beyond high school. In most States, guards must be licensed.

Education and training. Many employers of unarmed guards do not have any specific educational requirements. For armed guards, employers usually prefer individuals who are high school graduates or who hold an equivalent certification.

Many employers give newly hired guards instruction before they start the job and provide on-the-job training. The amount of training guards receive varies. Training is more rigorous for armed guards because their employers are legally responsible for any use of force. Armed guards receive formal training in areas such as weapons retention and laws covering the use of force. They may be periodically tested in the use of firearms.

An increasing number of States are making ongoing training a legal requirement for retention of licensure. Guards may receive training in protection, public relations, report writing, crisis deterrence, first aid, and specialized training relevant to their particular assignment.

ASIS International has written voluntary training guidelines that are intended to provide regulating bodies consistent minimum standards for the quality of security services. These guidelines recommend that security guards receive at least 48 hours of training within the first 100 days of employment. The guidelines also suggest that security guards be required to pass a written or performance examination covering topics such as sharing information with law enforcement, crime prevention, handling evidence, the use of force, court testimony, report writing, interpersonal and communication skills, and emergency response procedures. In addition, they recommend annual retraining and additional firearms training for armed officers.

Some employers prefer to hire security guards with some higher education, such as a police science or criminal justice degree. In addition, there are other programs and courses available at some postsecondary schools that focus specifically on security guards.

Guards who are employed at establishments that place a heavy emphasis on security usually receive extensive formal training. For example, guards at nuclear power plants undergo several months of training before going on duty—and even then, they perform their tasks under close supervision for a significant period of time. They are taught to use firearms, administer first aid, operate alarm systems and electronic security equipment, and spot and deal with security problems.

Gaming surveillance officers and investigators usually need some training beyond high school but not usually a bachelor's degree. Several educational institutes offer certification programs. Classroom training usually is conducted in a casino-like atmosphere and includes the use of surveillance camera equipment. Previous security experience is a plus. Employers prefer either individuals with casino experience and significant knowledge of casino operations or those with law enforcement and investigation experience.

Licensure and certification. Most States require that guards be licensed. To be licensed as a guard, individuals must usually be at least 18 years old, pass a background check, and complete classroom training in such subjects as property rights, emergency procedures, and detention of suspected criminals. Drug testing often is required and may be ongoing and random. Guards who carry weapons must be licensed by the appropriate government authority, and some receive further certification as special police officers, allowing them to make limited types of arrests while on duty. Armed guard positions also have more stringent background checks and entry requirements than those of unarmed guards.

In addition to being licensed, some security guards can become certified. Certifications are not mandatory. ASIS International offers the Certified Protection Professional for security people who want a transferrable validation of their knowledge and skills.

Other qualifications. Most jobs require a driver's license. For positions as armed guards, employers often seek people who have had responsible experience in other occupations or former law enforcement officers.

Rigorous hiring and screening programs consisting of background, criminal record, and fingerprint checks are becoming the norm in the occupation. Applicants are expected to have good character references, no serious police record, and good health. They should be mentally alert, emotionally stable, and physically fit to cope with emergencies. Guards who have frequent contact with the public should have good communication skills.

Like security guards, gaming surveillance officers and gaming investigators must have keen observation skills and excellent verbal and writing abilities to document violations or suspicious behavior. They also need to be physically fit and have quick reflexes because they sometimes must detain individuals until local law enforcement officials arrive.

Advancement. Compared with unarmed security guards, armed guards and special police usually enjoy higher earnings and benefits, greater job security, and more potential for advancement. Because many people do not stay long in this occupation, opportunities for advancement are good for those who make a career in security. Most large organizations use a military type of ranking that offers the possibility of advancement in both position and salary. Some guards may advance to supervisor or security manager positions. Guards with postsecondary education often have an advantage in securing supervisory positions. Guards with management skills may open their own contract security guard agencies. Guards can also move to an organization that needs higher levels of security, which may result in more prestige or higher pay.


Security guards and gaming surveillance officers held 1.1 million jobs in 2008. About 55 percent of all jobs for security guards were in investigation and security services, including guard and armored car services. These organizations provide security on a contract basis, assigning their guards to buildings and other sites as needed. Most other security officers were employed directly by a wide variety of businesses and governments. Guard jobs are found throughout the country, most commonly in metropolitan areas.

Gaming surveillance officers work primarily in gambling industries; traveler accommodation, which includes casino hotels; and local government. They are employed only in those States and on those Indian reservations where gambling is legal.

A significant number of law enforcement officers work as security guards when they are off duty, in order to supplement their incomes. Often working in uniform and with the official cars assigned to them, they add a high-profile security presence to the establishment with which they have contracted. At construction sites and apartment complexes, for example, their presence often deters crime.

Job Outlook

Opportunities for security guards and gaming surveillance officers should be favorable, although competition is expected for some higher paying jobs. Numerous job openings will stem from faster than average employment growth—driven by the demand for increased security—and from the need to replace those who leave this large occupation each year.

Employment change. Employment of security guards is expected to grow by 14 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. This occupation will have a very large number of new jobs arise, about 152,500 over the projections decade. Concern about crime, vandalism, and terrorism continues to increase the need for security. Demand for guards also will grow as private security firms increasingly perform duties—such as providing security at public events and in residential neighborhoods—that were formerly handled by police officers. Additionally, private security firms are expected to provide more protection to facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Employment of gaming surveillance officers and gaming investigators is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2008 and 2018, as fast as the average for all occupations. Casinos will hire more surveillance officers if more States legalize gambling or if the number of casinos increases in States where gambling is already legal. In addition, casino security forces will employ more technically trained personnel as technology becomes increasingly important in thwarting casino cheating and theft.

Job prospects. Job opportunities for security guards should be favorable because of growing demand for these workers and the need to replace experienced workers who leave the occupation. In addition to full-time job opportunities, the limited training requirements and flexible hours attract many people seeking part-time or second jobs. However, competition is expected for higher paying positions that require longer periods of training; these positions usually are found at facilities that require a high level of security, such as nuclear power plants or weapons installations. Applicants with prior experience in the gaming industry should enjoy the best prospects for jobs as gaming surveillance officers.


Median annual wages of security guards were $23,460 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $19,150 and $30,100. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,680, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $39,360. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of security guards were:

General medical and surgical hospitals $29,020
Elementary and secondary schools 27,980
Local government 27,660
Traveler accommodation 25,660
Investigation and security services 22,170

Gaming surveillance officers and gaming investigators had median annual wages of $28,850 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,000 and $37,690. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $19,290, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,310.

Related Occupations

Other occupations that help protect and serve people are:

Sources of Additional Information

Further information about work opportunities for guards is available from local security and guard firms and State employment service offices. Information about licensing requirements for guards may be obtained from the State licensing commission or the State police department. In States where local jurisdictions establish licensing requirements, contact a local government authority such as the sheriff, county executive, or city manager.

For more information about security careers, about the Certified Protection Professional, and for a list of colleges and universities offering security-related courses and majors, contact:

For more information related to jobs with the Transportation Security Administration, call the TSA Recruitment Center at (800) 887-1895 or (800) 887-5506 (TTY), or visit their website. Internet:

Information on obtaining Security Guards positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.


  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

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