Best Cities for Security Guards

Security guards, whether uniformed or unarmed, are in an unenviable position. “Many people feel they are just wanna-be ‘rental cops,’” said Mike Austin, a security guard-turned-police officer who now runs his own related business. “They think they don't have to do what they are told to do because they believe security guards have no authority.” In actuality, a security guard’s clout varies and is dictated by his employer.

Also dependent on multiple factors in the world of security guards? The quality of life in they city where they work. We studied 379 cities, looking at annual average salary, number of jobs, cost of living and location quotient (more on our methodology below).

Best Five Cities for Security Guards

The 1 million-plus security guards employed in the U.S. in May 2014 earned $28,040 on average, or an hourly wage of $13.48, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But money isn’t all that matters. The following five cities emerged for their standing in all four categories that we reviewed. They represent cities big and small in five different states.

1. Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital scored highly in each of our categories, namely in total jobs (32,890), the fourth-most in the country, behind only New York (80,970), Los Angeles (52,160) and Chicago (41,850). Helping its cause further is that the National Association of Security Companies is based in D.C., with ASIS International in nearby Alexandria, Va. There are also a lot of elected officials with their own details.

2. El Centro, CA

El Centro has just 850 security guard positions in its city limits but makes up for that with the nation’s top annual average salary, $43,490, which is 55 percent higher than average. Generally speaking, less jobs equals higher pay, as nine of the top 10 paying cities in the country have fewer than 1,000 total positions. California as a whole has 14 percent of the nation’s security guards, the most. El Centro in particular boasts a public safety training center to produce future security personnel.

3. New York, NY

Aside from its sheer volume of security guard opportunities, the Big Apple recorded a top-10 location quotient, meaning that there is more demand for their services here than most anywhere else. Many larger security companies – including Guardsmark, Apollo International, Elite Investigations, among many others – call the city home. With large public departments “NYPD” and “FDNY,” security guards here can, in some cases, serve as an important intermediary between them and the public.

4. Trenton, NJ

With its data also capturing that of nearby Ewing, Trenton security guards take home an annual average of $39,170, the 10th-best salary of the cities we studied. The New York-New Jersey area is represented seven times on our list of the top 30 (below). Trenton, it should be noted, was ranked near the bottom of our study of New Jersey’s safest cities, ostensibly pointing to the high rate of security guards employed by businesses. The city has many jobs listing a desire for security officers, an oft-used synonym.

5. Augusta, GA

Augusta – and the county of Richmond, its data-reporting partner – round out the top five due, in part, to a low cost of living. It’s nine percent less expensive for security guards to live here than in an average American city. Augusta’s top employers are schools and hospitals, both of which require security services; it’s also the home of a Minor League Baseball team, the Class A GreenJackets and their Lake Olmstead Stadium. Moreover, nearby Atlanta is the headquarters of larger firms like SecurAmerica, while Roswell, Ga. hosts US Security Associates.

Top 30 Cities for Security Guards

RankCityAverage SalaryJobsLocation QuotientCost of LivingScore


Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV$37,85032,8901.7315727


El Centro, CA$43,4908501.9210137


New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ$32,30080,9701.8816952


Trenton-Ewing, NJ$39,1702,5301.4110654


Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC$35,8602,1601.329168


San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA$33,01011,6201.3420074


Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, MD$38,3405,5201.2215777


Amarillo, TX$43,4309201.0385105


New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA$29,9307,6101.7793108


Columbia, SC$30,9303,8601.3695108


Nassau-Suffolk, NY$31,35012,8301.27108108


Newark-Union, NJ-PA$29,74013,1801.72125114


Baltimore-Towson, MD$29,44017,8801.73107118


Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL$30,03041,8501.40105120


San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA$30,29013,8301.31152128


Decatur, AL$39,1904301.0391129


Las Cruces, NM$30,9107501.3693129


Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA$36,7102,4300.8991150


Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY$33,1101,9100.97119150


Baton Rouge, LA$31,6803,1001.0293151


Tacoma, WA$31,0102,3001.07106153


Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA$31,40014,2400.99152155


San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA$29,8009,4401.22187156


Norwich-New London, CT-RI$31,0401,1101.09111159


Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ$28,2402,3702.26110159


Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA$33,97010,0800.85137162


Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA$30,1208,8801.09144167


Bremerton-Silverdale, WA$35,0705900.92115171


Las Vegas-Paradise, NV$27,21017,7402.5694172


Syracuse, NY$35,6602,0000.84100173

On Topic: Starting out as a Security Guard

Austin of Never Surrender Self Defense: “Before becoming a security officer I was taking criminal justice classes at my local community college. After being hired at Rutgers (University), I attended a two-week training session taught by the Campus University Public Safety Association. I also continued some of my college studies and received training in use of force and personal safety. After several years of working as a security officer at Rutgers, I attended the Act 120 Police Training Academy, where I received all the training that was required for me to move on as a police officer.

“Finding a job working as a security officer, I found, was very easy. Being hired as a police officer (in Philadelphia) was much more competitive. It was not uncommon for 600 people to show up for a police exam when the town may have only been looking to hire one or two officers.”

On Topic: A Watchman’s Entry-level Responsibilities

Austin: “In security and police work, it is typically 99 percent total boredom followed by 100 percent adrenaline. Depending on what your duties are it really can be very routine. At Rutgers, our duties included making sure any student who had safety concerns were escorted from point A to point B if needed; making sure any building that was supposed to be secure was secure; and making sure any one walking around on campus were permitted to be there.”

On Topic: Where Security Guards Work

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, security guards work in the following industries:

  • 59 percent – investigation and security services
  • 3 percent – general medical and surgical hospitals
  • 3 percent – elementary and secondary schools
  • 3 percent – traveler accommodation
  • 2 percent – local government
  • 1 percent – spectator sports


These were the three key questions we asked in coming up with the list.

1. What can security guards earn in the city?

We ranked the best cities for lawyers based on the median annual pay. Income is likely the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating elsewhere. A high salary in an expensive city, however, may be less attractive than a lower salary in an affordable town. Our next metric takes affordability into consideration.

2. How affordable is it to live in this city?

Now that we have the median salary, we’ll look next at the cost of living. The cost of living is a measure of how far earnings can be stretched. Cities with lower cost of living index numbers ranked higher in our study. For example, the average city is benchmarked at 100. A city with a cost of living index of 187, such as San Jose, Calif., would mean that generally speaking, living expenses are 65 percent more expensive compared to the average city.

3. What is the location quotient for security guards in the city?

A place with a high median salary and low cost of living may seem perfect, but job opportunities may be limited. Our third factor accounts for this by favoring cities with high location quotients. Location quotient measures the concentration of security guards in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average. We interpret a higher location quotient to mean a relatively higher demand for a security guard’s services.

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