The Question over Regulating In-House S/Os

May 31, 2007
Regulation depends upon state laws; might present cost and turnover issues

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- They wear uniforms, guard some of the country's largest corporations and sometimes carry weapons. But so-called in-house private security guards escape even the minor regulatory oversight some states impose on contract guards.

Thousands of these guards - also known as proprietary guards - aren't regulated at all, with no mandatory training or background checks, state officials and industry experts say.

In Florida, stores lobbied successfully to remove in-house guards from regulation. Florida licenses only armed in-house guards. Connecticut, Georgia and Michigan also exempt unarmed guards from regulation. Illinois and North Carolina require only that companies notify the state that they employ unarmed in-house guards.

Ohio law doesn't regulate any in-house guards. California, New York and Oregon require unarmed, in-house security guards to obtain a license. Most other states have little or no regulation as long as the in-house guard doesn't carry a gun, according to state officials and experts representing both security guard companies and corporate security directors.

"You need skills to deal with irate people with problems, and crowd control - there's just too many things that you need to know," said Randy Blevins, an armed security guard at Riverside Hospital in Columbus. "I definitely think that there should be some way to regulate that."

The lack of rules over in-house guards is another kink in a spotty system governing the country's private security guards. A survey by Associated Press bureaus in 50 states and the District of Columbia found a patchwork of state laws regulating the industry.

Blevins, 30, a former Marine and sheriff's deputy, may be called to wrestle with unruly patients or calm emotional visitors. He's trained: The hospital requires its employees to take a six-month police training course and 40 hours of continuing education a year.

In California, the bar and restaurant industry has fought regulation to avoid excessive oversight of bouncers, who could be affected by rules for in-house guards.

Speedway Motorsports, a Concord, N.C.-based company with six racetracks nationwide, has a few of its own guards but also hires hundreds of temporary guards for weekend events each year. It considers off-the-street workers temporary in-house employees.

"To get all of them licensed - that would be ridiculous," said Doug Cremer, Speedway's manager of guest services and logistics. "We can do the screening process ourselves."

A Connecticut bill to license uniform-wearing, in-house guards stalled this year. Arizona tried this year to draft a bill to regulate in-house guards but ran into opposition from companies that employ such guards.

California last year began requiring in-house guards to be registered along with contract guards. Pending legislation would extend the same training requirements to in-house guards.

Bar and restaurant owners in California - whose security forces include part-time bouncers - say the training bill ignores their needs and would benefit the private security companies that provide such training.

"It's overkill and does not take into consideration the huge turnover we have," said Stephen Zolezzi, executive vice president of the Food & Beverage Association of San Diego. "In many cases these guys are security guards for four months and then they move on."

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