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Security guard industry lacks standards and training

The threat of terrorism after the 9/11 attacks raised awareness of the role security guards could play in intelligence sharing with law enforcement. But new research released from Michigan State University (MSU) has found that the security guard industry remains plagued by inadequate training and standards in many states.

Formal training of the nation’s one million-plus private security officers is widely neglected, a surprising finding when contrasted with other private occupations such as paramedics, childcare workers, and even cosmetologists, said Mahesh Nalla, lead investigator and MSU professor of criminal justice.

The research also states that security guards say they’re unprepared to handle problematic people and physical altercations and to protect themselves. It strongly endorses the need for systematic and standardized training in the $7 billion-a-year industry.

“It’s reasonable to conclude that private security continues to be an under-regulated industry despite the increase in the roles private security guards play in people’s lives and the fact that they greatly outnumber sworn police officers in America,” Nalla said.

The number of unarmed security guards has roughly doubled since 1980, to about 1.1 million, compared with about 833,000 police officers. Given security guards’ increased role, Nalla and colleagues studied whether states have kept up by strengthening minimum standards and requirements.

The study found there has been no dramatic increase in the stringency of industry regulations since 1982. In many states, there is a lack of any training standards for security guards, leaving some to learn on the job without formal training beforehand. Some states do not require any minimum education or even a criminal background check for guards.

A second study by Nalla drew on in-depth interviews with security officers. While some guards were able to improvise based on previous experience as police officers, many others believed the lack of training was a hindrance to performing their tasks effectively.

Nalla noted security is a relatively low-paying industry with high turnover, which can make it difficult to recruit qualified guards, especially for small security companies. He added that many other regions around the world, including Australia and Europe, have stricter standards and accountability for their private security industry.


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