Experience Pays Off

Sep 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Michael Fickes

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As James Urrea walks through the aisles of a Stater Brothers supermarket, he scans the shelves and often plucks a can or a box from a display and turns it around so that the label faces forward like the other cans and boxes. As he makes his way through the parking lot, he will grab stray carts and put them into the line of carts in front of the store. His are the habits formed over years of working as a supermarket stock boy.

At 47, Urrea has worked in the supermarket business for nearly 30 years. For the last 18 years, he has been director of corporate security with Stater Brothers Markets, a $3.7 billion supermarket chain based in San Bernardino, Calif.

The company operates 164 supermarkets between Los Angeles County and San Diego County in Southern California.

Urrea's responsibilities extend to the stores as well as a new distribution center and company headquarters complex that currently provides 2,295,590 square feet of space and will soon expand to 2,629,090 square feet.

For his comprehensive work in protecting Stater Brother's people and property for nearly two decades, Access Control and Security Systems magazine has named James Urrea Security Director of the Year for 2008.

The making of a security director

Urrea came to the security field along an unusual path. He started out stocking shelves and doing general labor for another grocery chain. After a couple of years, he moved to Stater Brothers and joined the chain's warehousing operation. “I drove a fork lift, pulled groceries, worked on the receiving dock and did just about every job connected to distribution,” Urrea says. “I worked as a warehouseman in the Teamsters Union for about 10 years.”

He thought about going into law enforcement back then, but decided that he wanted to stick with Stater Brothers because of the opportunities the growing firm offered.

But he didn't give up his law enforcement ambitions. In his spare time, he attended classes at the local college and eventually graduated from the Sheriff's Reserve Academy, a law enforcement program designed to train deputy sheriffs. Reserve Academy graduates become reserve deputies, who put in some minimum number of hours each month handling Sheriff Department business.

Urrea has been in the San Bernardino County Reserve for 25 years and handled a number of routine and dangerous assignments. For 22 of his reserve years, he has served on the only narcotics reserve unit in the United States. Twelve reserve officers staff the unit, which handles assignments that include drug-buying busts, narcotics surveillance, search warrants and other tasks related to drug crime.

For more than 20 years, from the late 1970s through 1990, Urrea worked his way up in the Stater Brothers warehousing operation, while acquiring law enforcement experience as a reserve deputy.

In the late 1980s, Stater Brothers promoted Urrea to warehouse supervisor.

In 1990, Warren Cocke, Stater Brothers' security director, retired. Jack Brown, Stater Brothers chairman and CEO, and Cocke mounted a search for a new security director.

A former Chief of the San Bernardino City Police Department, Cocke was aware of Urrea's law enforcement experience. Urrea understood security and also knew the company's operations, an unusual combination. New security directors must usually learn company operations. While assembling a list of candidates, Cocke added Urrea. After interviewing all of the applicants, Brown and Cocke chose the “local talent.”

“It's been a big advantage to me to know the company as well as I do,” Urrea says. “I can tell, for instance, when a policy that we're considering would hamper certain operations in the warehouse and figure out a way to prevent that.”

“In addition, the people working in the distribution center feel like they can call me and explain that they are behind in receiving and ask for some flexibility in connection with a policy or procedure. I'll understand whether the request is justified or not.”

When he took over as security director, Urrea also understood that the field of security had begun to evolve. Prior to 1990, the profession approached security as if it were police work — investigating crimes and finding perpetrators. By the time Urrea took over, security directors, especially those in growing retail chains, were beginning to apply technology with the goal of preventing crimes such as shoplifting and internal theft.

“Before Jim arrived, our department was not focused on prevention; our job then was apprehension,” says Todd Fernandez, assistant director-corporate security with Stater Brothers. “Jim turned that around. He has really made a difference.”

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© 2015 Penton Media Inc.

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