From Hill Street Blues, to Hillbrow, to managing risk for BMW

Issue 5 2022 Editor's Choice, News & Events, Security Services & Risk Management

People are drawn to the security industry for a variety of reasons. For Jane-Eleanor Morrison, however, the television series Hill Street Blues convinced her she wanted to fight for justice and “catch the bad guys”. Of course, as a coloured female from a conservative family, growing up in KwaZulu-Natal, there were more than a few challenges she had to overcome.

Jane-Eleanor Morrison.

Jane matriculated in 1989 in Durban, in the middle of the era of stayaways and general political unrest in the coloured community in that area (although it certainly wasn’t restricted to that community or area). In those days, the expectations in her community were that she would get married, settle down, have children, and perhaps find a job in a retail store. Jane, however, wanted more. She wanted to broaden her horizons and gain further education.

Moreover, she knew that being a coloured, lesbian female would make it difficult to establish a career and find her own destiny in KZN, so she made the decision to leave. (In those less enlightened times, her sexual orientation, although evident, remained hidden until she hit her thirties.)

Her parents were very protective of Jane as their only female child, but eventually allowed her to move to Johannesburg with her cousin. She stayed with her mother’s cousin in Soweto for a while, amid the unrest there which made her want to join law enforcement. Of course, she would have been called a traitor if she joined the SAP. Six months later she, her cousin and three friends found employment and moved into a flat together in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.

An opportunity at a braai

One evening while the group was having a braai on their balcony with some friends, they witnessed a woman being robbed. One of the friends was Eddie White, an SAP member who became her mentor for many years. Seeing the crime, Jane jumped over the ground floor balcony, chased the criminal down and “put him down.” The thief was later escorted to Park Station, no doubt feeling very sorry for himself.

This led to Eddie advising and assisting her in joining the SAP (before it became SAPS). She was fast-tracked and started at the Police Training College in September 1991. At this stage, the police still segregated its colleges to keep the different races apart (future training colleges would be integrated). Jane was in the last intake of what used to be known as the ‘Kitskonstabels’. She says the training she received was good and it taught her discipline, patience and various facets of the law. It also “opened her horizons,” for which she is grateful.

As the only English-speaking coloured woman at the college, she also had to learn Afrikaans quickly, as all instructions and exams were in Afrikaans. Nonetheless, she still won the award of ‘Student of the Semester’ due to her determination to make it work. Having graduated, she started as a uniformed officer earning the princely salary of R1270 per month (R970 after deductions).

She was soon promoted to work in the detective group, where she was the only non-white woman. Following that she moved onto the Highway Patrol division that was created to patrol the country’s national roads. The highway division was using BMWs donated for the task, equipped with the ability to trace vehicles equipped with Tracker devices. In a four-month period, Jane and her partner recovered the most vehicles for Tracker when compared to her colleagues.

Joining the private security industry

Based on her performance, Tracker offered her a job, and in June 1998 she started with the company as a control room operator, soon moving up to supervisor and then investigator. While with Tracker she continued her education (as she did in the SAPS), and Tracker sponsored Jane in obtaining her National Diploma in Policing and then Forensic Investigation.

Jane spent 18 years at Tracker doing investigations and as an expert witness for the company in various court cases. In the last four years of her employment with the company, this involved moving from province to province, wherever arrests were made. Jane was also involved in recovering stolen vehicles from Lesotho, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Her education continued during this period, with Jane doing courses in management, before she was approached by BMW South Africa, this time in the field of technical security and the physical security sector. She made the move to BMW in 2016 and has not looked back since.

Industry challenges

Despite achieving the success she has, Jane still faces day-to-day issues with the security industry, primarily on the human resources side. The high turnover rate of security officers means that security service providers employ a pool of people who are trained to think the same way and are afraid to think out of the box. This often means mass hiring practices with no due diligence with respect to compliance to the law, skills upgrades and so forth. “Sometimes it feels as if their only focus is to provide a warm body to meet contractual obligations,” she says.

Despite this, standards can never be compromised, and Jane insists that her service providers conduct proper assessments and can prove that the people supplied to BMW obtained an 80% or higher pass mark. She also conducts personal interviews before deploying any guards and has developed a set of standard operating procedures (SOP) for all onsite personnel to adhere to.

She says there is also a negative stigma attached to lesbian black women within the security industry, as they do not form part of the ‘old white boys’ club’. Slurs are limited because it is known that repercussions can be followed in today’s industry. However, shunning is still prevalent. Non-white women in the security industry are underestimated and exploited in many spheres. Many major security companies lack black female representation at the board level and she believes this should change. Diversity is a topic that is being addressed by corporates, so there is optimism that things will change in a positive way.

Serving the youth of South Africa

Jane is not only focused on the security industry, however. She is active in the LGBTQ+ community as a coach to young people having difficulty in accepting and understanding their gender identity. Her advice to these youths is pertinent to all youngsters concerned about their future, and that is to work towards what you want, don’t stop and don’t give up.

She believes that if you want something there will be an internal desire and drive to achieve it, and if you pursue it and persevere, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. “Every decision you make in life will have repercussions,” she states. “If you are careful and make the right decisions, the right repercussions will follow, enabling you to achieve your goals as long as you steadfastly chase them.”

With her passion for law enforcement, she also advises young people to work hard and find people who can mentor and assist them in achieving their dreams – even if this takes time, and it will. She warns them not to give up in the interim and to stay away from crime and drugs. She says the same mantra she teaches the security officers at BMW applies; it may sound simple, but it is vital:

• Do what you are supposed to do.

• Do not do what you are not supposed to do.

• Do not do what you should not do.

Finally, Jane also advises people to think outside the box. “Thought is free; use and apply your mind to what you can do differently that will benefit yourself and your organisation.”

Not done yet

While Jane has an enviable track record in the security industry, she is not done yet. She is still learning and wants to move into more strategic management roles, which includes her dream of running the company’s full security function, not only in South Africa, but for the African continent. She also wants some expat experience to compare strategies employed at other BMW plants in different countries, adopting and sharing best practices across the global group.

She ends by noting: “There are always new ways in which we can improve efficiencies and optimise security operations, and that has been and still remains my focus going forward.”


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