Record number of private security guards in B.C. raises questions

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      Last year, the number of private security guards in British Columbia hit an all-time high, bouncing back from a slight dip the industry encountered in 2010.

      According to Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 16,409 guards licensed under the Security Services Act in 2014. That’s up from 15,641 the previous year and more than double the 7,743 security guards registered a decade earlier, in 2004.

      In a telephone interview, Doug King, a lawyer with Pivot Legal Society, asked if the industry will ever stop growing. “You have to wonder, where are all the guards going?” he said. “What are they doing?”

      The licence category in question includes guards like those positioned at the entrance to a bar or nightclub, those patrolling private properties such as a mall or construction site, and those that monitor public spaces for community organizations like the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. It excludes positions like armoured car guards and building-alarm responders.

      King noted the sector is better regulated than it once was. Five years have passed since the final implementation of the Security Services Act and that legislation tightened licensing requirements. But it may have done little else, King added.

      An online record of violations tickets confirms King’s characterization. The act includes provisions for how complaints regarding physical misconduct should be dealt with; however, in 2014, for example, there were only 13 tickets issued to security guards, and all of them were for licence infractions or bureaucratic transgressions.

      “Any time the police use force, they have to tell the police complaint commissioner or make a report about it,” King emphasized. “We don’t have that with guards. A guard can injure somebody seriously and nobody hears about it.”

      It’s often not until an incident makes it onto the evening news that a formal review is conducted, King said. As examples, he pointed to an October 2012 incident where guards at Pacific Centre were caught on video mistreating a man in a wheelchair, and the December 2013 death of Lucia Vega Jimenez, a Mexican immigrant who killed herself while in the custody of private security guards contracted by Canada Border Services Agency.

      “That was a wakeup call,” King said of the later incident. “Private security has become so entrenched that they are taking the place of what is commonly seen as a police officers’ duties.”

      The Justice Institute of B.C., which trains private security guards as part of an agreement with the Ministry of Justice, referred questions to the province. The Ministry of Justice did not make a representative available for an interview.

      Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union, told the Straight there are complementary functions that are appropriately carried out by private security guards.

      “There is no role for a public police officer to stand inside the dollar store worrying about security,” he explained. “That store can be dealing with those issues on their own.”

      At the same time, Stamatakis said there are situations that could be better served by a police officer that’s held to account via government review.

      “There are very legitimate concerns around the increased role of private security in public spaces,” he maintained. “We have to remember that these are for-profit companies that are making decisions based on the bottom line and not on public interest.”

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      Lupick is irrelevant

      Apr 12, 2015 at 8:04am

      Wow! You sure ignited a firestorm there Trav.

      "Security in Name only"

      Apr 12, 2015 at 3:45pm

      It is worth noting that a lot of what is now termed security is really just secretarial or concierge work. In my experience working in this industry I found most guards I came into contact with spent more time handing out keycards, answering questions from members of the public, and contacting janitors if there is a clean up needed, than detaining anyone.

      In the several years I worked in the industry, I never detained anyone, nor got into a physical confrontation. I think the public simply does not undertand what security actually does.

      We should be careful not to be too worried about "security guards" acting like glorified receptionists.

      Brad Koltai

      Apr 14, 2015 at 7:15pm

      Private Security is an industry that is growing in British Columbia and other Provinces across Canada, however; it is still not as prevelant as in the United States.

      As Canadians, we have become accustomed to living in a society that is relatively safe and well protected by government and police agencies. The role of private security in the past has been somewhat limited and viewed as an unnecessary expense by many businesses. Subsequently, security has rarely been utilized unless insurance underwriters make it a requirement.

      As a result, the private security industry has become infamous for hiring very poorly qualified individuals to work as guards and their security wages have been at a minimum wage level for many years. It goes without saying that if you pay peanuts you only attract monkeys.

      The recent legislations imposed by Provinces that require security guards to obtain a training course to obtain a license have done very little to improve the level of competence or professionalism of most security guards. Especially considering the courses are offered by private companies, online and even by the security companies who benefit from turning out asand guards into the workforce as possible. The written exam is delivered and scored by private companies and many guards who have licenses do not communicate effectively in English or know their authorities, as required by the Act.

      With a national and international security climate that is facing increasing threats, the need for private security is growing. The Police alone cannot be responsible for safeguarding private businesses or property. The role of the police is now responsive rather than proactive due to the increasing population and the rise in crime rates across our country. They simply cannot be in every mall, school or airport at one time.

      It is the responsibility of businesses to take appropriate measures to safeguard their customers, employees and assets. Businesses who utilize private security companies benefit from having safer environments as well as reduced risks and losses associated with criminal activities.

      It is imperative that as private security companies take on a growing role within the community policing model, government needs to impose stricter regulations and licensing requirements to protect the public at large.

      Security guards cannot be left to police themselves.

      jo berry

      Apr 28, 2015 at 7:38pm

      totally agree with the Brad you so nailed it all. As for the security in name only you must be some mall cop. I sure have detained people and got in physical confrontation as an event security guard and private protection for famous people. But you are right the public doesn't understand what we do and sometime either do the clients, we are there only because they are required to have us to get their permits and insurance. I love when a client says you were right about that. I want to say to those clients of course i am i do know my job, is that not what you hired me to do so don't be so surprised when i do it.