While armed security officers may not be coming to a theater near you anytime soon, recent mass shootings have made companies take a second look at the possibility of hiring guards with the ability to fire back in the case of an active shooter event. While those inside the industry say they’ve seen an increased interest in armed security, they’re not expecting a kneejerk reaction to the recent shootings at aColoradomovie theater and a Wisconsin Sikh temple to significantly impact the market.
Typically, armed guards have only been used by a select number of industries where the use of lethal force may be necessary in adverting disasters, such as nuclear power plants and other critical infrastructure sites.
Despite valid concerns that arise from these incidents, Brent O’Bryan, vice president of learning and development for guard services firm AlliedBarton, says that after most company talks with a security provider and conduct a thorough security assessment; they realize they actually don’t need armed guards.
"Sometimes, especially in light of (shooting events), there is a reaction to immediately say ‘we need armed officers.’ But then when we consult and work together and look at the situation, they may not really need an armed officer," O’Bryan said.
O’Bryan said that AlliedBarton has seen an increased interest for armed guards in several vertical markets including the government sector, facilities that require security clearances, as well as financial institutions and the aerospace industry.
"I would suggest that the market has gone up slightly, but not significantly. Our organization has seen a small increase in the number of requests for armed personnel over the last year or two," he said.
Jeff Flint, executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, believes that as more high-profile mass shooting incidents occur, however, there will be more inquiries from organizations as to whether or not they should arm their security officers.
"I don’t believe it has translated yet into an actual uptick in final demand, but it has created an uptick in inquiries about armed guards," said Flint, whose organization represents about 300 security companies, most of whom are large national or regional firms, and lobbies on the industry’s behalf at both the state and federal government levels.
Experts say one of the most common barriers to more widespread use of armed security services are the liabilities that a company incurs when they take on the responsibility of hiring armed personnel should they err in their duties. Even some guard firms themselves have not always liked the idea of providing armed personnel because of these liabilities.
"It’s an interesting market because traditionally, the vast majority of security firms did not like the armed market because it creates liability issues for them," said Flint. "A security officer that makes a mistake standing there can create some problems for a company. A security officer that makes a mistake with a gun can result in a multi-million dollar lawsuit."
Flintestimates that the majority of the security officer market in the U.S., between 90 to 95 percent, is unarmed.
According to Robert Bobo, west region vice president for G4S, the liability concerns that many companies have about hiring armed security officers are sometimes overblown.
"There’s a perception out there that’s there’s more liability exposure that may or may not be true, but it goes back to the qualifications of the person you’re putting in those armed positions," he said. "Selecting a person that is a military veteran that has three years of experience as a military police officer and taking that person and training them to be a civilian security officer will carry a lot more weight and reduced liability exposure versus taking someone off the street, training them as an armed guard and putting them in that position."