Apartment Courtesy Officer is a job title that is often misunderstood.
- What’s the difference between a courtesy officer and a uniformed security guard?
- The name obviously…but their job function is often identical.
Apartment Courtesy Officer: What About the Name?
A “courtesy officer” is an apartment industry term that generally describes the title of a person that performs some visible protective service function on an apartment property after office hours.
- A courtesy officer can be a full or part-time employee of the apartment property.
- A courtesy officer can also be a contractor employed by a licensed security guard agency:
- Dressed in the security agency guard uniform;
- Wearing the security agency badge;
- Displaying the guard company patch logo affixed to the uniform shirt or hat;
- Filling out activity and incident forms on guard agency stationary;
- Using security agency equipment or marked vehicle;
- Supervised by the security guard agency
The name courtesy officer” as a job title was first adopted by the Texas Apartment Association attorney in the 1980s. This association lawyer asked property owners and managers to believe that calling a uniformed security guard a “courtesy officer” will somehow reduce their exposure to civil liability.
This attorney proclaimed that the word “security guard” somehow implied that an apartment property in Texas undertook a legal duty to provide security for its residents and was therefore potentially liable for criminal acts that caused injury to those residents.
This same attorney then began to spread his opinion nationwide after a series of trade journal articles and speeches given at apartment conventions recommending the removal of the word “security guard” from industry language. I know this because I was there during this transformation.
I disagreed with this opinion then and I disagree now three decades later. Call them what you will, but know that it’s the security guard-like uniform that they wear and their security guard-like duties that will define their true job function.
To me, “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck…it’s probably a duck.”
Even today when I teach crime prevention to property owners and managers, they have a hard time passing the smile test when using the term “courtesy officer” when referencing that they provide a uniformed security guard service. Managers further get hung up attempting to label them as “independent contractors” as if that softens any liability exposure.
Apartment Courtesy Officer: Advantages
- Apartment courtesy officer is an employee of the property owner or management company and often lives on-site in exchange for a rent reduction.
- Apartment courtesy officer may wear a company logo shirt, hat or jacket as a uniform.
- Apartment courtesy officer that lives on-site will know the property and residents better.
- Some apartment security courtesy officers are off-duty police officers.
- Police officers have superior training, experience, and police powers to enforce laws.
- Most courtesy officers carry a cell phone and can respond quickly if required to be on call.
- Apartment courtesy officer can become very loyal for years due to housing discounts.
- Apartment courtesy officer can enforce policy and rules and not criminal laws.
- Apartment courtesy officer can deliver notices and newsletters during their rounds.
- Apartment courtesy officer can assist resident lock-outs and secure common area amenities.
An apartment courtesy officer employee can do anything a security guard can do and more.
Apartment Courtesy Officer: Disadvantages
- There are no licensing or training requirements for an apartment courtesy officer.
- No industry standards for background screening, or certified training.
- No official oversight for use of force with batons, pepper spray, or handguns.
- Property manager lacks experience on how to properly hire an apartment courtesy officer.
- Background screening is necessary for a uniformed officer due to unit access issues.
- Property manager lacks experience on how to adequately train an apartment courtesy officer.
- Property manager lacks experience in how to supervise an apartment courtesy officer.
- Property manager lacks experience on how to create apartment courtesy officer duties.
- If the apartment courtesy officer suddenly quits you have to start looking for a replacement.
- To terminate an apartment courtesy officer you may also have to terminate their lease.
- Off-duty police officers can get called away suddenly leaving the property unprotected.
- Off-duty police may be overly tired working the extra job.
Apartment Courtesy Officer: Background Checks
- Most uniformed contract security officers should have been screened at the time of licensing.
- Off-duty police officers, presumably, should have already been screened before being hired by their municipality.
- At a minimum, job references and a basic criminal background should be checked on non-police courtesy officers.
- If the courtesy officer lives on-site, they should be qualified as any other resident including having verifiable job references and no felony criminal convictions.
- If the applicant fails as an apartment courtesy officer they may still make a good tenant.
- Yes, ex-felons need jobs too, but not working a security job at a residential property…too much liability.
- Most good applicants will have solid identifiable references, most bad applicants will not.
Don’t hire bad apartment courtesy officer applicants!
- The bottom line is: if you going to issue unit keys or master keys to a security guard or courtesy officer you better feel comfortable with them.
How to accurately check job references and criminal backgrounds is a constant source of complaint from property managers. It’s not difficult, but the quality of background data varies depending on where you live.
The solution is to try and to make a good-faith effort. There are dozens of background screening services available and private investigators that perform this service at a reasonable rate. Check with your local apartment association for referrals.
Basic rules for apartment courtesy officer productivity:
- Always create a detailed job description and list of nightly duties to accomplish.
- Always specify and/or supply a uniform for visibility, authority, and consistency.
- Always require that detailed written activity logs be submitted following the last patrol.
- Read the reports, act upon them, and file the documents for at least 3-5 years.
- Patrol documentation is needed evidence to defend a premise liability lawsuit.
- Vague, incomplete, or inaccurate reporting dilutes the credibility of patrol service.
- Always supply the courtesy officer with an emergency call list and telephone access.
- Always notify the residents how to the contact courtesy officer after hours when needed.
- Communicate daily with the courtesy officer to get higher quality, accountability, and service.
- Do not settle for unverifiable patrols or accept inappropriate behavior.
- Insist that a courtesy officer act in strict compliance with all key control policies.
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