Brian Sims reviews Channel 4’s ‘Undercover Boss’, in which Securitas’ UK and Ireland leader Geoff Zeidler found out exactly what life on the front line is like for the company’s security officers.
Monday 8 July 2013 was something of a Red Letter Day for security guarding in the UK, but you’ll not be overly cognisant of the fact unless you happened to be watching Channel 4 at 9.00 pm.
Series 5 Episode 2 of the broadcaster’s ‘Undercover Boss’ strand featured Geoff Zeidler – country president and UK/Ireland managing director at Securitas – going ‘back to the shop floor’ following the 2011 acquisitions of Reliance and Chubb, and learning what life is really like for his frontline staff during one of the worst spells of economic recession ever to hit the UK.
What followed was not only a seriously engaging hour-long documentary but also a thought-provoking exercise bringing key topics to the fore.
An engineering graduate of the University of Cambridge, Geoff took it upon himself to vacate the Boardroom for five days and – under the persona of Dale James, an unemployed engineer looking for a career change – interface with Securitas’ frontline officers. Those officers wouldn’t recognise him, he hoped, once he’d grown a beard and shaved his head.
First port of call was a waterside development of bars in Manchester. Geoff met with Mo and Mario (former employees of Reliance). Over two decades they’ve been threatened by people brandishing firearms, slashed with knives and ‘glassed’ by thugs toting broken bottles.
Geoff swapped his suit for a metal-plated vest and, alongside the duo, attempted to control aggressive drunks and impromptu street brawls. Not his usual habitat and one that, by his own admission, was “very frightening”.
Attempted theft and Anti-Social Behaviour
Next stop was The Priory Shopping Centre in Dartford. Here, instances of attempted theft and Anti-Social Behaviour crop up. Geoff was put to the test by security manager Julie who asked him to confront a six-foot giant banned from the site – the chap concerned was acting out the role – before informing Securitas’ UK leader that she regularly works 14-hour days (many beginning before 5.00 am), finds it difficult to cover all shifts due to lack of bodies and that her own life outside of work is suffering as a result. Not a great picture.
Then it was off to Cirencester, where Geoff pitched up in front of Charles and Carl looking for mobile patrol work. Alas, the eagle-eyed duo rumbled Geoff’s disguise thanks to a photo of ‘The Real Mr Zeidler’ immediately behind him on their office wall, but agreed to keep quiet.
Geoff ventured out on night patrol with James, one of four officers who check up on 500-plus properties. James had to buy his own torch because the one with which he’d been supplied didn’t cut it. He’d also negotiated a new £25,000 contract for Securitas to monitor three warehouses but there was no commission in place for him.
To round off the whole experience, Geoff dropped in on Dewsbury Bus Station (a long-term contract for Securitas). The station resides in a racially diverse town where one third of residents come from an ethnic background.
Dave – one of the officers on duty – is quizzed by Zeidler, who learns of security staff having to cope with (among other things) drunks who threaten them, attempted headbuttings and instances of racial abuse.
At the end of the programme, Geoff – by now “angry” with what he has seen – admits who he is and acts fast. Mo and Mario are granted extra CCTV, Julie additional officers. James is paid his commission (and issued with a new torch). Dave receives £500 to donate to local charities while consideration is afforded to alterations for Basic Job Training on the site that will improve aspects of communication.
How frontline security officers are viewed and treated – by their employers, their employers’ customers and society at large – matters, and massively so. As this programme amply demonstrates, those officers do a fantastic job day in, day out, often under immensely trying circumstances. They absolutely deserve to be wholly respected by the society they protect.
Channel 4, Securitas and Geoff Zeidler merit much praise for producing this programme. We desperately need more prime time documentaries centred on security’s frontline. Maybe then we can banish forever the tired, clichéd and erroneous views of security guarding that have no place in today’s world.