Study: Guard industry lacks uniform standards, training requirements

June 11, 2014
Despite industry's growth, standards have failed to keep pace

According to a recent study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University, the security guard industry, by and large, lacks uniform standards and training requirements. Despite the fact that there are more than one million private security guards in the U.S. who outnumber police officers by a ratio of 3 to 1, the study found that regulations governing the profession are scant.

Mahesh Nalla, the study’s lead investigator and a professor of criminal justice at MSU, said that the goal of the study, which was published in Security Journal, was to evaluate minimum legislative standards covering the guard industry from 1982 to 2010.

“We identified various categories that included residency, minimum age, minimum educational qualification, mandatory training, and criminal background checks, among others. We compared three data points: 1982, 1998, and 2010,” explained Nalla. “Clearly in 1982 there were some states that didn’t have any minimum standards at all on any of those criteria. In 2010, we expected that more states would not only have minimum standards but raise the bar for many of these categories. Yes, a number of states have addressed these matters but when it came to training, we did not see many differences across the years. When we looked more closely at the type of training such as in-class instruction, written tests, and the substance of material covered … we found that a lot of states do not spell out the specifics.”

While Nalla said most large guard service providers cater to the specific training requirements set forth by their clients, there are many thousands of smaller companies that employ less than a hundred guards where the state mandated minimum standards serve as the framework for meeting requirements.

“Given that we don’t have that information, looking at the minimum standards across the states gives us a glimpse of the requirements for security guards… and there are very minimal with the exceptions of states such as California and New York,” he said.       

Although he thought the MSU study wasn’t completely accurate as it pertained to the reporting of some of the current requirements for guards in the states, Steve Amitay, executive director/general counsel for the National Association of Security Companies (NASCO), said that they agree with the premise that certain states should take more regulatory action related to mandating minimum training requirements.

“For decades NASCO has worked to raise the standards for security companies and officers and supported and sponsored state and local legislation that would establish or increase company and officer requirements,” Amitay wrote in an email to SIW. “NASCO was behind a big, but unsuccessful effort in 2007 to get legislation passed in Colorado to bring statewide regulation to security companies and officers. NASCO formally supported the Indianapolis legislation mentioned in the study. NASCO has supported efforts in several states to regulate proprietary security officers. NASCO also, along with ASIS International, was the driving force behind the successful passage of federal legislation that allowed for security officer employers to request FBI checks on their officers when such a check was not being made available by the state of employment. NASCO also formally endorsed the ASIS Private Security Officer Selection and Training Guideline.”

In a separate study also published in Security Journal, Nalla along with other MSU researches interviewed guards employed in small-to-medium-sized companies to get their perspective on the level and nature of training they received. Their findings suggested that many of the guards had to rely on their prior experiences on the job and didn’t have the ability to fall back on any specific training that was provided to them by their employer. A few others noted that they were simply given a videotape to watch and a few others noted that they shadowed another guard for a day.

The guards who took part in the study indicated that they would like to have more training in areas such as customer service, dealing with hostile customers/clients, and self-defense techniques, among others. Having done research in this area for many years, Nalla said that he personally was not surprised by the responses from the guards in this study.

Nalla also noted that “prior research has shown that there is very high turnover in the guard industry because of the apparent reasons – low pay, inconvenient hours, no benefits – and it affects the industry.” He speculated that because of this high turnover and the level of competition in the guard industry, “smaller companies may not have the resources to provide the training necessary for the guards to be adequately prepared for the job.”

Due to the increasing role they play in dealing with the public, Nalla said that it may be necessary for states, at some point, to impose minimum standards on the industry.

“From a citizen’s point-of-view, the security guards’ image can be enhanced through professionalism, which can only be facilitated through state mandated minimum standards,” concluded Nalla. “We recommend that states take a closer look at the security guard industry to enhance the professionalism of this very large group of people engaged in security and order functions.”

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief,

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.