News and Views from Dave Wilson

Advice for Security Guards

by on Sep.19, 2010, under Photography

Dear security guard,

I’m delighted that you have a good job, a nice uniform and a sense of authority. When exercising this newfound power, especially in the context of terrorism prevention, you may find the following hints and tips helpful.

  1. Almost everyone walking past your building is carrying a cellphone camera capable of taking pictures that can be blown up to 10″x8″ or larger. A very small number of these people (probably none at all) are terrorists.
  2. The likelihood of someone being a terrorist is not proportional to the size of their camera or the amount of equipment they are carrying.
  3. Anyone eyeing your building with bad intent is unlikely to do so by setting up a whole lot of gear and standing there very visibly for 10 or 15 minutes. Stealth is a far more likely strategy for someone who doesn’t want to be noticed.
  4. People in this USA are entitled to take photographs of pretty much anywhere that is visible from public property (with a few exceptions which don’t include your office building).
  5. You can’t profile based on race when you have suspicions regarding the behaviour of passers-by but many of you apparently believe you can profile based on camera equipment choice. Please ensure that you approach and interogate all point-and-shoot totting grandmothers the same way you would a serious photo enthusiast.
  6. Telling someone they can’t use a tripod near your building “for copyright reasons” is a lame excuse that doesn’t mean anything. Please think of a better way to try to fob off people who are easily intimidated.
  7. Telling someone they can’t use a tripod “for insurance reasons” is also a cop-out. In case you find yourself talking to someone capable of thinking, please ensure that you can provide a more specific reason. Be prepared to explain why a tripod is an insurance risk. I can understand why, for example, swimming pools and trampolines could be a problem but I’ve never heard of a single tripod-related third-party injury that would cause insurance rates to change.
  8. When trying to defend your assertion that photographers pose a security risk, it is generally considered very offensive if you equate their risk to large truck bombs. I guess it is possible to pack C4 into a camera bag but a truck full of fertiliser or a car trunk containing a small thermonuclear device definitely pose a rather more significant risk. Do you approach all vehicle drivers to check whether they pose any risk to your building?

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment. In the meantime, here’s one of the threatening images I shot of your building yesterday (when no-one approached me to complain).

Sincerely yours,

Dave Wilson (amateur photographer and tripod user)
John Hancock Building, Boston

9 Comments for this entry

  • Web Design Ploiesti

    Lol, you really hate that guy 🙂
    I really liked the “threatening images” part.

    • Dave Wilson

      It’s definitely too strong to say “hate” but I strongly object to people treating me like and idiot and failing to engage their brains in situations like this. The whole “let’s harass photographers” thing really ticks me off since the basic idea behind it, namely that photographers pose a security risk, is blatantly ridiculous. It’s one of these situations where security personnel feel that they should be seen to be doing something even if that something is pointless and serves no purpose other than to annoy a segment of the law-abiding public.

  • Owen Knightley

    Dave, stumbled upon your site while doing research. I find it interesting the perspective you bring to security guards and their duties. A well trained guard shouldn’t be wasting their time harassing photographers. However, a simple chat with the person can easily help guards determine if the person is a threat or just a regular Joe or tourist trying to take pictures. The points you listed makes a great case study for training our guards.

    Owen Knightley´s last blog post ..Brampton Security Guard Training and License

    • Dave Wilson


      Many thanks for your comment – it’s nice to hear from someone on the other side of the debate, so to speak. As you can probably guess, this post was written with my tongue somewhat in my cheek after a particularly egregious experience up in Boston. That said, I find this kind of thing goes on extremely frequently and there are very few occasions when I am photographing in a large city where I don’t get approached by at least one security guard. In most cases, these interactions are reasonable and, in some cases even pleasant. There are enough, however, that fall into the category described here that I would love to know what the security folk are thinking. Can you shed any light on typical training regarding photographers that may explain why so many security people are worried about people with cameras close to their buildings?

      • Owen Knightley

        Most security organizations would expect officers to remain alert and ready to report anything suspecious – this includes photographers. One of the key tactics that guards are trained to do, is to act as a deterrent to crime. So, if you are standing there with your camera equipment and taking pictures, after 10-15mins, security guards are expected to make their presence known. This involves approaching the individual and engaging in conversation. It could be as simple as asking if you need help. An experienced guard will stop there and monitor you from a distance.

        After the events of 9/11, photographers I would say fit a stereotype of a person that is suspecious. If may surprise you, but when students are asked to identify someone that they think would be suspecious, photographers are right up there in the list. It’s almost as if you were wearing a ski mask. You got your work cut out for you Dave.

        However, remember, in many jurisdictions in Canada and US, becoming a security guard can take as little as 30 hours of training. Because of the lack of experience, they tend to use their own stereotypical judgement and harass people instead. This is definately the wrong way to approach things.

        Photographers who are boldly out in the open and taking pictures should not alarm a well-trained guard. It’s usually those that are hiding the smallest camera and sneakingly taking pictures that guards want to identify. Harassing a real photographer will only detract from their duties. Period.
        Owen Knightley´s last blog post ..Brampton Security Guard Training and License

        • Dave Wilson

          Owen, thanks for this information. Thinking back on the positive experiences I’ve had with security guards (there have been quite a few) they definitely fall into the category you describe where they strike up a conversation rather than immediately becoming combative.

  • John Delaney

    There are a few jobs worths out there, who take their roles a bit too seriously in the wrong way. It’s a shame as it tarnishes the image of security officers across the board. Great pic you managed to capture all the same.

  • Donald Scott

    Nice ..I think all these tips should be followed by those who provide security guard training 🙂 Thanks for sharing and the image you clicked is really threatening.
    Donald Scott´s last blog post ..Armed Security Guard Training in North Dakota

  • Notional

    There are a few jobs worths out there, who take their roles a bit too seriously in the wrong way. It’s a shame as it tarnishes the image of security officers across the board.

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