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."
Another reason that a lot companies eventually decide that armed security is not in the cards for them is due to the fact that there’s simply less licensed armed security officers who cost more to hire than their unarmed counterparts.
"An armed security officer, because of the higher standard and higher training involved, typically can be twice as much or more per hour than an unarmed security officer," Flint said.
Most states also require armed security officers to meet some level of standard when it comes to training. According to Bobo, only nine states currently do not have regulations for security personnel, which he expects will change over the next five years.
"The requirements vary state-by-state," said Bobo. "Typically, for an armed security officer, state regulations might require that the person be 21-years-old and they would require the person pass a background check investigation. In addition, they would require that person have completed training, and it’s anywhere for armed guards specifically, between 12 hours to 40 hours based on state regulations and that’s in addition to any additional requirements that might be setup for unarmed. So, it really varies across the country."
Bobo said that G4S’ requirements to become an armed guard are much more stringent than that and that just because someone may pass muster for a state armed guard license doesn’t mean they will meet company standards. In addition to having to have prior experience in law enforcement or the military, Bobo said that G4S armed personnel undergo a minimum of 40 hours of training and that in most cases, they far exceed that.
"It’s our responsibility as an organization to ensure that we’re putting the right talent in those positions," Bobo added. "Our guys are getting anywhere from 50 to 160 hours of training based on the particular organization’s requirements and what they need that person to perform."
This training involves everything from the legal aspects of being an armed to security officer, to reporting responsibilities, firearms qualifications and weapons retention. O’Bryan said that armed guards are also trained on the use of force continuum, understanding behavior triggers in people and how to diffuse a situation through verbal commands.
Bobo feels there needs to be more education among end users when it comes to using both armed and unarmed guards.
"There is a misconception that a guard is a guard, whether the guy has gun or not. That’s not accurate," he said. "You can’t take someone that’s been an unarmed guard at a warehouse, put him through a 12-hour training course and then call him an armed guard. The qualifications, experience and talents aren’t there for that level of position."
Being that workplace violence is one of the biggest triggers for requests in armed guards, O’Bryan said that AlliedBarton has tried to be proactive and educate their clients about steps they can take without resorting to armed personnel, which isn’t always the best answer.
"We’ve tried to get out in front of it and really get clients and building tenants and employees to understand topics related to workplace violence warning signs – recognizing and being able to report these issues," he said. "Awareness, we believe, is our best prevention. The best prevention we don’t believe is necessarily armed security."