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Security Guards Deserve Respect

I made a late afternoon sortie to the mall where what was a relatively short queue of mall-goers was being slowed down by – of all people – the security guard on duty at the front gate. The guard must have been a newbie because I did not think I had seen his face before.

Most days, people are just waved through; and even if the guards are obligated by management to inspect the contents of people’s bags, they usually do so only cursorily. When a guard does more than what one comes to expect in one’s daily sorties, one immediately comes to the conclusion that that guard has got to be an overzealous newbie.

What this afternoon’s front gate guard saw in the woman he accosted, I did not bother to find out. There were, after all, other gates to the mall. Rather than be held up, I left the queue and went for the side gate. There, at least, the guard – probably recognizing me as a regular – did not even pretend to accost me as I strode purposefully towards the gate.

But back to the accosted woman, although I could not be sure because I was irritable from being held up, I think she had refused to unzip her shoulder bag. Most regulars do so voluntarily, if just to play along with the charade. This woman’s argument, I could surmise, was that she had a shoulder bag in one hand and a plastic bag in the other.

She was, thus, asked to lay down both bags on the table that doubled as a barricade to force mall-goers to enter single-file. I thought – at the time – that the guard was just trying to show the woman who was in charge. She looked completely innocuous.

On the other hand, what did I know?

Somebody once said to me – and most certainly in a derogatory manner – to be patient with security guards because they would not be in that profession if they had brains inside their heads. That, I say with conviction, is the sort of bigotry I do not subscribe to. Whether one is a corporate executive earning hundreds of thousands a month, a yuppie just starting a job or a tahô vendor walking the streets, at the end of the day, everyone is just trying to earn a living.

The security guards? Hell, yes; them too! Much as we get irritated sometimes by their zeal, the truth is they are just doing their jobs. They are there to execute somebody else’s orders and are certainly following standard operational procedures.

I know... I know... There is a contradiction here somewhere. I did say that I impatiently broke away from the queue to enter via the side gate, where the guard was not as strict. My feet were hurting and a bit of a cold made me testy. I just wanted to do a quick in-and-out of the supermarket before heading home to get some rest.

I actually thought the guard at the front gate could have exercised a bit of horse sense instead of insisting that the woman opened her bag. That very act led to a quick build-up of late afternoon mall-goers, all of which were impatient to get some air-conditioned relief from the heat and humidity. My own personal philosophy is that although there may be established standard operating procedures, these should never be a hindrance to the exercise of common sense to judge certain situations.

On the other hand – and especially after my initial irritation had subsided – I was quick to realize that the guard did not know the woman at all at had no way of telling if she was malicious or not. If I am being honest, I have seen enough crime documentaries on cable television to concede that the most vicious criminals are those who are no different from you and me.

There was no way to tell if the guard’s zealousness was in any way related to the recent bombing at the Zamboanga City Airport. Public paranoia is, after all, quite contagious. I know for a fact that instructions have been issued for security personnel to be more thorough in the inspection of passengers boarding in air terminals throughout the country. I do not know if similar instructions have been issued for other buildings frequented by the general public such as malls.

My problem with this is that these instructions are often reactive; and that the sudden tightness in security only serves to highlight the previous laxness. No bomber in his right mind – and not that they ever are – will even contemplate smuggling a bomb into an establishment when security is tight. These are very deliberate people who will wait till security returns to normal levels. What this simply means is after everyone has conveniently forgotten the last bomb explosion.

But back to the mall, the front guard’s zeal was probably not related at all, because the guard at the side gate was not even in the least interested.

Now, there’s the rub... While I was initially happy to be able to get in without hassle, I am fair enough to concede that this second guard – in reality – was the one slacking. While he might have known me from sight, he certainly had no way of knowing if I had a bomb inside my backpack.

The bag was empty, by the way... I bring it so I can carry groceries from the supermarket behind my back.

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