When Investigations Hit Home


Writing Investigative ReportSecurity Managers often find themselves addressing challenges.  Let’s face it, challenges are part and parcel of the job.  But, few challenges compare to incidents or investigations focused on the actions of security staff members.

When a member of the security staff is suspected of workplace theft, on-the-job drug use, data breaches, or worse, it can hit a Security Manager right square in the gut. 

While we can tell ourselves that our own security staff are employees who have daily challenges, temptations,  and weaknesses no different from “other” company staff—it affects a Security Manager much, much differently when the subject is their own staff.   The feeling of violation becomes more personal, more painful, and less easy to mentally dismiss were the subject of the investigation a member of the Maintenance or Training Departments.

If you are a Security Manager who hasn’t yet had to conduct investigations of your own staff members this article may offer some preparation for that eventuality.  Security Managers who have been through this may feel some professional support in knowing they aren’t alone in this very unpleasant side of Security Management.

Here are some real-world examples of security staff involved in varied incidents.  These very brief scenarios are from four different companies/facilities and involve a variety of security staff, including: IT Security Management, Security Specialists, and both Proprietary and Contract Security Officers.

Scenario #1:  Drug use in the Workplace – A Security Manager with multiple facility responsibility is called by a warehouse supervisor at 8PM on a Wednesday night.  The proprietary Security Officer in one of the warehouses was found smoking pot with two other warehouse employees in a secluded area of the warehouse. The Security Manager arrives at the facility and takes statements from all parties, including his own staff, while documenting the incident.

Scenario #2:  Theft of Company Property – An anonymous tip leads to an investigation of a proprietary Security Officer working at temporary company facilities stocked with retail consumer goods.  Third shift vehicle surveillance by the Security Manager reveals accomplices of the security officer showing up to the facility and loading the trunk of a vehicle with goods.  The Security Manager apprehends the accomplice and officer in the act, with backup from local law enforcement.

Scenario #3:  Sexual Harassment – An IT Security Manager is reported to have repeatedly engaged in sexual harassment of two female staff members.  Investigation reveals repeated inappropriate comments, suggestions, and unwelcomed invitations made to these staff members.  An interview with the IT Security Manager confirms the ongoing and inappropriate staff interactions.

Scenario #4:  Theft of Staff Monies – A customer of a contract security service reports repeated amounts of petty cash missing from an office desk.  Live surveillance by the contract agency Security Manager results in finding the third shift contract Security Officer stealing the funds from the desk.  Immediate apprehension of the security staff member takes place at the scene.

Scenario #5:   Suspicion of Alcohol use in the Workplace – Two Security Specialists are suspected of avoiding facility foot patrols to spend entire shifts in the security office, possibly using alcohol on company time.  Live surveillance by the Security Manager confirms his staff has failed to perform foot patrols for an entire shift, but is inconclusive on the alcohol aspect of the investigation.

If you are a Security Manager, or aspiring Manager, attempt to see yourself in the above scenarios.  How would you feel as the Manager of these security staff members?  Keep in mind these are staff whom you may have hired, or mentored, and whom you trained and scheduled.  They are staff who you know in a way that is more personal than other facility staff.  In many cases you know their hobbies, how many kids they have, stories about hunting, sports, and more.

In all cases they are security staff who were hired or promoted to be involved in various aspects of security, including:  protecting staff, securing facilities, drafting policies, and preventing theft.  In most cases, rightly or wrongly, Security Managers hold their security staff to a higher standard than other facility staff.  While I don’t like to compare security roles to that of law enforcement, here is an area where there is a commonality.  Consider how the community reacts when news breaks of a Police Officer who is involved in selling drugs or murdering someone.  There is an extra bit of outrage that someone in such a position of trust has fallen so far.  The same holds true when security staff stray.

Your job as Security Manager and supervisor of these individuals in our scenarios above is to “Do your job.”

That is not meant to be a flippant admonition.  “Do your job” is meant to convey a need to muster every ounce of professional strength and focus on the task at hand.

And you need to do so while “walking a line.”

On one side of the line you cannot be preferential because the individual is a member of your staff—nor preferential because you somehow want to “keep the issue quiet” out of fear of how your department will be perceived.

On the flip side of the line you cannot go overboard because you may expect that “higher standard” from your staff.  This is the side where restraint must rule your actions.  It’s not the time to “throw the book” at someone when a similar violation with other staff would warrant a different outcome.

“Do your job” in this case includes setting aside your emotions and making certain you stay focused on following your previously established company policy to a “T” to deal with your staff member.  If an interview/interrogation has to happen, it has to happen.  If written statements are typically sought, do it—no shortcuts.  If suspension is the normal course for whatever the wrongdoing, then suspend.  If involving law enforcement is the policy, then follow-through.  Same goes for termination of employment and all the rest.

This is why I state that setting aside your emotions might be in order.  It can be easy to read steps to follow, and even consider what it might be like to be in one of these scenarios, but none of that will reduce the emotional toll you’ll experience when an event with your own security staff does take place—and you have to work through it.  Your emotions can be tended to after you’ve done your professional duty.  That may sound callous, but that advice to stay focused will get you through an event like this.

Lastly, after the incident is resolved—whatever resolution that entails, often termination and sometimes prosecution—do at least these two things.

  1. Learn from the event.  Not unlike other security incidents or investigations, there is almost always something to be learned from what happened.  Those “somethings” might result in training, policy, or facility changes (and some may disagree with me—but “sometimes” you learn there is “nothing” to be learned.)
  2. Move on.  For me, this is more important than #1.  There is a tendency when your own security staff member is the source of an investigation/termination that a Security Manager will dwell on the event for some time.  That can lead to a loss of confidence, micro-managing, trust issues with other security members, and questioning of your own management skills.  Don’t go there.  Spend time wrapping up the event just like you would any other investigation—learn, and move on.  You need to do that for you.

Certainly this article has not been all-encompassing when it comes to suggestions on how a Security Manager might approach scenarios where your own staff members are the source of incidents and investigations.

My goal has been to offer some sense of “practical” considerations for these situations.  We so often hear “textbook” and “technical” dissertations on all manner of Security Management and Operations.  As important as those resources can be, it is at least as important to read the “real world” accounts of dealing with security staff who are the subject of incidents or investigations.