USC’s ‘yellow jacket’ security can do better

Security ambassadors are a huge investment for USC, so they need to be worth it.

(Noah Remus / Daily Trojan)

As students pass USC Village or walk through campus to get to their classes, they will see people in yellow jackets at their posts. Their job is to protect students and make sure everyone feels safe, but they are not as effective as they should be. 

The Assistant Chief of the Department of Public Safety David Carlisle clarifies that DPS officers are different from the security ambassadors — unarmed security officers who wear yellow and red jackets — whose job is to be seen and report suspicious activity to DPS. 

DPS officers are employed directly by the university whereas security ambassadors are contracted by the University via a private company called Allied Universal. While DPS can physically interfere in situations to protect students, security ambassadors do not get directly involved in conflicts.

To provide better safety for students, security ambassadors should be able to interfere when problems arise. They should be comprehensively trained and authorized to be able to physically and verbally diffuse situations. 

Carlisle states that the security ambassadors have to go through some “minimal” training standards for private security that meet the state of California licensing requirements. They complete 40 hours of arrest and control training so they can understand the law in addition to DPS-specific instruction which includes First Aid and CPR training.

In contrast, armed DPS officers go through the same training as any California police officer and are sent to the LAPD academy for that training. Once they graduate from the academy they go through a minimum of four months of on-the-job training. Then, every two years, they have to go through additional training to maintain their skills. 

Providing security ambassadors with more crisis deescalation training and autonomy could lead to less staff needed — and therefore a lower cost — and time saved when a person is in need of help. For example, there are around two to three ambassadors standing post in front of the Village gate facing South Hoover St. at 10 p.m. for student identification verification; if they were more comprehensively trained, there could be one to neutralize a situation, and if they need backup, they can alert DPS.

Additionally, there exists a mistrust in the police among some communities, which has come to the forefront of national attention in recent years with the Black Lives Matter movement. 

According to CNN contributor Nicquel Terry Ellis, “Youth advocates fear placing more police in schools would only criminalize more Black students for incidents that could be diffused by school staff members.”

Also, considering that security ambassadors are more accessible, as they are seen everywhere on and around campus within a two-and-a-half mile radius, it would be more convenient for students to ask them for help than to call DPS. 

With the option for non-DPS officers to diffuse situations, students who feel uncomfortable with police affiliated officers could be more willing to ask USC safety officials for help.

Moreover, it is understandable to be lonely and bored during shifts, especially if there is not a lot going on. However, this should not come at the expense of students’ safety. Often, other students and I regularly witness security ambassadors distracted on the job, whether that be talking to their colleagues or frequently going on their phones.

To reduce this, there should be shorter shifts, so they can be more alert of their surroundings. Currently, there are 80 ambassadors per day, 40 of which are overnight working 12-hour shifts. 

Research from the National Library of Medicine suggests that interrupting your circadian rhythm by exposure to night work or long working hours could cause cognitive impairment.

Security ambassadors need to look and act as if they are going to enforce the rules and be a presence that sends a signal to those who mean harm. To do so, they need to be capable of doing their jobs to the fullest extent, something which is not possible if their cognition is impaired by long hours. 

Carlisle says that USC spends millions of dollars on the security officers, yet it seems as though their only duty is to watch and report on happenings. With the massive expense these officers incur for USC, they should be trained further and be allowed to learn and do more on the job. 

“USC spares no expense when it comes to student safety,” Carlisle said.

With such a large and comprehensive campus safety department and millions being invested in student safety every year, the added layer of security these ambassadors provide needs to be used more efficiently. Students should walk past security ambassadors and feel safe and know that the expense to attend USC is reflected in their safety standards.

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