By John Sodaro
Protecting others is something Robert Olivares, 44, has been doing for most of his adult life. He is now a security officer for Summit Security Services, working on the campus of Columbia University. His outstanding work ethic and performance have earned him this year’s Building Service Workers award for a security officer at a university.
Olivares, who grew up in Brooklyn but now resides in the Bronx, became interested in security work as a young man, when friends persuaded him to join the Guardian Angels, the volunteers whose red jackets and berets have been comforting city residents since the 1970s.
“The Angels also was a way to keep me off the streets,” he said. “It showed me that helping people was really a great thing.”
He’s had a number of security jobs over the years, from the unglamorous—parking garages—to parties and events at some of the city’s most famous venues. His previous job before coming to Columbia four years ago was at Madison Square Garden.
Olivares said he was humbled when he found out he had won the award given by the service union he respects so much, 32BJ.
“Good unions are a huge help for workers like me,” Olivares said. “Union work helped me a couple of times when I lost my job.”
Olivares works night patrols on the Columbia campus and routinely seeks out the darkest, most isolated spots. “It’s very dark in a lot of areas,” he said. “There are a lot of places where trouble seems to happen.”
One night last year, after his shift had ended, Olivares heard a scream coming from one of those dark spots near Riverside Park.
Olivares ran toward the scream. In the shadows, he saw a man grappling with a woman from behind. The man took off running and Olivares gave chase. The suspect disappeared into the park and Olivares notified the police.
“I think he saw the reflection of the shield on my cap,” Olivares said. “I was in the right place that night.”
Even though he never caught up to the suspect that night, Olivares still felt good he was able to stop the crime from happening.
For his actions on that night, Olivares earned one of several citations he has received from his employers for outstanding performance on the job.
Olivares says the awards are a nice confirmation for the work he does, but he gets his real reward from being able to do the work he loves.
“Protecting people, serving people,” he said, “that’s what really matters to me.”
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