America’s Future: Justice & Private Security in The 90s, May 3, 1990

America’s Future: Justice & Private Security in The 90s

Michigan State University
Wharton Center
East Lanslng, Michigan

MAY 3, 1990

Thank you.


I am delighted and honored to be here today. The association between Guardsmark and Michigan state university goes back 25 years to the early days of the company. The name art Brandstatter was like a household word in the private security industry, and Michigan state furnished Guardsmark its first summer interns.

It was a very successful program, and I still remember with great fondness one of the interns, a young man named Eugene Wenk. He did an outstanding job for us and after graduation, went to serve his country overseas. He rejoined Guardsmark after he returned, but his life – and a promising career – were cut short by cancer. He would have been thrilled to have been here today. So you can see that our attachment to Michigan state university is both professional and emotional.

The relationship between Guardsmark and Michigan state university goes further. Because bob Trojanowicz is prominent among the many distinguished endorsers of my book. How to protect yourself from crime. We want you to have a copy as a gift from us to each of you.

My remarks today come from a lifetime of work in the private security field as well as a life-long interest in criminal chairman of the executive committee of the national council on crime and delinquency and as national chairman of the national conference of Christians and Jews, I have a special interest in issues of fairness and justice and a perspective that is probably unique among owners of private security firms. While as a businessman I try to provide the ultimate in private security, as a concerned citizen I am well aware of the gap between our national rhetoric and our national practice of ensuring freedom and justice for all.

But ideals, no matter how difficult they are to attain, keep us on the right path toward our goal. They also give us a way of measuring our progress.

When I started Guardsmark in 1963, I didn’t have a secretary or even a customer. Now Guardsmark is one of the largest firms in the world, with just under 8,000 employees in 81 offices serving more than 400 cities across the country.

Building Guardsmark was a lot of hard work, but that alone would not have been enough. It required a vision of what was possible, and a firm belief that in our system of free enterprise there would always be a market for a quality service offered at a fair price.

My competitive edge was that I had an ideal in mind. I also had a goal. My ideal was to create a private security services firm that would not sacrifice quality under any circumstances, and would never put profit above principle. In simple terms, I wanted Guardsmark to be the best. To be a symbol of excellence. That we achieved, but since our measure is against an ideal, it keeps us constantly struggling for improvement.

My goal was to create a company that would serve as a model for the rest of the industry, a company that would revolutionize the way private security services were performed.

An unrelenting focus on quality set us apart from the competition and led to a number of innovations. We are also actively recruiting from the best schools in the united states. By the fall we will have 10 Harvard graduates in our ranks to match the 10 Michigan state grads who are already with us.

In addition, to increase the professionalism of our employees. We offer them a career path. Giving people the opportunity for growth and advancement turns jobs into careers, brings out qualities of leadership, and rewards excellence.

Guardsmark is not like other private security firms, and we’re proud of that. In fact, we don’t like to hire people who have worked for a competitor because we know from experience that they have not been trained right. We’re unique in the industry: we’re uncompromising in the pursuit of quality, we don’t lower our standards for any reason, and we don’t seek growth for its own sake. All our growth is internal, and if we were to make an acquisition we would have to be absolutely certain that the other company could be molded to fit our own corporate culture.

Why do we think the quality of private security is so important?

Just suppose for a moment that tomorrow may 4, all the private security officers in the united states called in sick. That includes all the private security personnel in banks and brokerage firms: all the people who monitor the high tech surveillance equipment in chemical companies, pharmaceutical firms, and equipment manufacturers; all the security officers across the united states – 1.1 million men and women who are there to protect lives and assets. They are not there tomorrow.

You can imagine the result. It would be a field day for the hijackers, the bombers, the muggers, the rapists, and the industrial spies. Think of the damage and death that can result from the turning of a valve, as in Bhopal, India; the chaos that is left in the wake of a single computer hacker; the trauma of poisoned medicine on our grocery shelves or ground-up glass in our baby food.

Consider the personal loss suffered by entrepreneurs who have spent their lives building companies. Only to have their trade secrets stolen by a hired spy or an angry employee.

The simple truth is that the united states has become increasingly dependent on private security, and that trend will continue. Rising crime rates and the inability or refusal of our society to provide matching budget increases for public law enforcement are the primary reasons. But another and major contributing factor to the growth of private security is the potentially massive damage that one person can cause in a technologically sophisticated society. A Bhopal. A Tylenol poisoning, a fire in a high rise can result in both deaths and astronomical losses.

As police have shifted their forces to the most serious and violent crimes. Many traditional police activities have been turned over to private security companies. Prisons. Ambulance services, enforcement of parking regulations. Patrolling of housing projects. And other services-even in some cases police and fire protection of entire communities-have been taken over by private companies that can do the job just as effectively but at a much lower cost.

This privatization trend will continue, and private security companies will expand their activities into new areas that have always been considered public police functions. the need for highly qualified and professional private security personnel has never been greater. The era of the night watchman or the plant guard is past. Today a security officer may be charged with operating highly sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment and be trained in areas that range from CPR to firefighting.

The term -security guard- is limiting and conjures up the image of someone passively standing guard. That’s why we refer to our people as “security officers.” which conveys more effectively the active nature of their responsibilities and our belief in their professionalism. But for our purposes today I’ll use “security guard” in referring to the industry as a whole.

The job of the security guard can be demanding, wearing, and excruciatingly tedious. Despite all that, the guard must remain alert at all times, because the normal pattern can suddenly erupt. At any moment, a security guard may have to deal with violence, a robbery, an accident, a medical emergency, or a fire.

If a security guard is alert, aware of his or her responsibilities, and properly trained in appropriate procedures, quick action can save both lives and property. Unfortunately, too many of the security guards working in the united states today are unqualified, dishonest, unreliable, and violent. That’s a problem for business.

It’s a problem for our society. And it’s a problem for each of us individually.

And this lack of quality—caused in good part by the lack of a responsible attitude among owners—is the major challenge facing the private security industry in the 1990s.

Nobody keeps statistics on how many guards each year are convicted of or implicated in cases of murder, arson, rape, robbery, or simple dereliction of duty. But the number is staggering. every month, newspaper clippings that detail such incidents around the country flow into our offices.

And every month we are shocked at the evident lack of quality of the nation’s private security forces. There are guards who are convicted felons. Guards who steal from the companies they are hired to protect. Armed guards who shoot bystanders, or other guards. Or themselves. There are guards who hear voices. Are thrilled at the sight of fire. Or feel bugs crawling on their bodies.

Don’t misunderstand me. These guards are in no way representative of the entire industry. To claim that they are would be as mistaken today as the characterization of the average private security guard that was made by a rand corporation study years ago: “an aging white male who is poorly educated and poorly paid.”

the truth is that most security guards are educated, hard-working   people who take pride in doing their job well. They’re White and Black: Hispanic and Oriental: aging males and young females; poorly educated and college educated. Some have little responsibility beyond wearing a uniform; others are highly skilled and trained professionals familiar with sophisticated security devices, chemical hazards, firefighting equipment, first aid procedures, sound safety precautions, the proper handling of security violations, and the limits of their legal powers.

In a company that pursues excellence with unrelenting zeal, such professionals are not the exception, but the rule. But in many of the thousands of companies now operating, these professionals would not be the rule, but the exception.

How can we account for such a situation? We believe there are five main causes.

First-and there is no escaping this-the primary blame must be placed on the industry itself. There are no industry standards for the selection. Training. And supervision of security officers and guards.  Many security service companies hire people off the street. Put them in uniforms, and assign them to their posts before lunchtime.

The companies do not even attempt to check the applicants’ criminal records. They do not check military service records. Or personal references, or previous employers. They do not check educational claims. They do not administer a test for drug use: they do not test for literacy. And after hiring the applicant. They do not have the employee take a personality test-such as the MMPI for purposes of placement.

This lack of quality control in the selection process is matched by inadequate training, and many of these unqualified and undertrained guards are frequently unsupervised.

To a security service company that demands supreme excellence.  Quality control programs are unavoidable costs. But to many of the thousands of private security companies, these costs are both avoidable and uneconomic.

They are uneconomic because these companies seek only those contracts that either by law or policy go to the lowest bidder. The widespread use of low-bid contracts is the second reason that quality is not an urgent priority in the private security industry.

Margins in the industry have always been low, and low-bid contracts force security service companies to slash their overheads to make a profit. Invariably, that means keeping quality control programs to a minimum. But it is precisely those programs that create and maintain a professional security force and allow a company to progress and modernize to meet the increasingly sophisticated security demands of our times.

In private security the low-cost provider offers a high level of illusion, but a low level of quality.

The fault here lies not so much with the low-cost providers, for everyone deserves to make a living. The blame rests on those sectors of government and industry that do not understand the difference between low-bid contracts for products and low-bid contracts for services. Products can be tested before the contract is awarded to ensure that specifications are met; the same is not true of services.

The third reason that quality suffers is a combination of relatively low wage rates and relatively high turnover rates. Historically, security has not been a major concern of corporate executives. As a result, security was assigned a low priority in terms of both organizational interest and budget. Security forces were composed of basically unskilled non-professionals who could not command higher wages in other occupations.

The legacy of relatively low wages is still with us, even though the business world-over the last 20 years-has sharply upgraded its perception of security and its importance.

High turnover among security guards is basically the result of low wages, as guards jump among companies for very little extra pay.

Relatively low wages make it difficult to hire and retain the best employees, because by definition they have the ability to move into higher paying fields. As a result, many companies have no alternative but to hire the most marginal employees who have little work ethic, few skills, and no lasting attachment to the work force. These guards have no upward mobility, but they make up for it in lateral movement as they drift in and out of jobs according to their whims or their immediate need of a paycheck.

The fourth problem in raising the quality of security guards is the difficulty of checking criminal records outside the immediate jurisdiction. Criminal record checks are an essential part of any sound selection program to ensure that guards are protectors rather than predators.

The need is evident. In the early seventies, the owner of a security services firm in Pennsylvania discovered that 10 percent of his security force had criminal records. More recently, it was reported that of all the security guards in New York state in 1980.  66 percent had arrest records. In California, 20 percent of all applicants for security licenses have conviction records.

The difficulty of running a thorough criminal record check derives from the hodgepodge of policies and procedures on the state level, an incomplete centralized data base on the federal level, and private security companies’ lack of access to criminal records on a formally recognized basis.

States and municipalities have their own ways of handling requests from private security companies. Some respond quickly, and others can take up to six months. Some ask the FBI to check federal records as well as those of states that have forwarded their records to the FBI’s identification division. But the records forwarded by the   states are incomplete, inconsistent. And unreliable.

The last, and perhaps most important major factor in the quality issue is government passivity. Regulation of the private security industry is left with the states and municipalities, and in general   they have left it alone. The haphazard and piecemeal regulation of the industry by the states and municipalities is almost totally ineffective.

Only a few states require that security guard applicants be screened for criminal records, drug use, or mental health problems, and training requirements are just as lax. The vast majority of states do not even have any general training standards.

The failure of any state government to establish in law valid and acceptable standards for private security creates a clear and present danger to the community.

The quality issue in the private security industry will not disappear any time soon. The five barriers to industry excellence cannot be dismantled. Or leaped, overnight. Low industry standards, low wages, low-bid contract policies are not mere surface problems. But ones that are deeply entrenched in the history of the industry. And industry access to criminal records and state licensing or regulation of the industry would involve lengthy policy and legislative changes.

But creating excellence in private security can be done, and it must be done, sooner rather than later. The growth of the industry and the trend toward privatization are leading to an increasingly important role for private security in the economic health of our nation.

Meeting the quality challenge requires a five-point program. I have spoken about this program before, and I will continue to do so. Until the necessary changes have been made.

First, the industry itself must live up to its responsibility to create and sustain standards of excellence in security services.

This could be done by instituting a peer review program for companies to complement the certified protection professional program now used for individuals who may or may not be in the security service industry.

Through its trade association, the american society for industrial security (or asis), the industry should establish standards of quality control that must be met or exceeded by companies that desire certification.

A certification board of independent security professionals, with or without ties to companies in the industry, could be charged with establishing a system of visitation. Investigation. And reporting similar to the system of peer review used by the american institute of certified public accountants for new member firms.

Once the system was in place, the association could ensure its effectiveness through communications programs to its members and to the public.

If this certification program were carried out properly, business, industry, and government would no more hire a private security company without checking its certification status than it would buy electrical equipment that had not passed testing by Underwriter’s Laboratories.

Second. Studies should be done. Either by academic experts-perhaps even here at Michigan state university-or by private foundations.  On the effect of low-bid contracting on the private security industry. The studies would surely document that low-bid contractors provide low quality security service, and that they maintain their profit margins only by stinting on selection, training, and supervision.

An increasing number of businesses are coming to see the ill effects of low-bid contracting and they are wrestling with the real difficulty of learning how to evaluate service industries without using price as the sole criterion. Studies showing that low-bid contracting for private security services is not cost effective would accelerate the trend.

Third. If the industry is going to attract better security applicants. Then both wages and benefits will have to show substantial improvement. The chances of that happening will improve greatly after the first two parts of the program are in place. Even then, private security companies will have to take the lead in convincing business, industry, and government that higher wage rates attract better applicants. And that means higher prices.

Fourth, it is essential that the private security industry gain access to criminal records on a regular and timely basis. The current system is reprehensible, cumbersome, ineffective, and dilatory and it virtually guarantees that people with criminal records will continue to be hired as security guards.

There are two possible solutions to this problem.

The first possibility would be the adoption by the FBI of a proposal put forward by the search group a non-profit national consortium for justice information. The proposal would effectively give private security companies access, through state criminal justice agencies, to the FBI’s interstate identification index (or III). The III is a data base that contains identifying information on persons with criminal records either in the federal offender file or in the states that have joined the III. The III does not itself contain the records. If a “hit” occurs on a particular individual, the requester is told where the record is located.

At the current time, private security companies have no access to the III because of the inconsistency of state laws on access to their criminal records.

The proposal calls for states to join the III-20 states currently belong-and for the states to allow the state where the request for a criminal record originates to set the criteria for access to the records. The advisory policy board of the national crime information center is expected to recommend this access policy to the director of the FBI at its meeting next December.

The success of the III and the implementation of the search group proposal would allow private security companies to learn within days if an applicant had a criminal record anywhere in the country.

It is absolutely essential that private security companies have access to criminal records of applicants on a timely basis. That is why, although we are watching the progress of the search group proposal with interest, we are also pursuing the second possibility. Guardsmark is now working on a bill, to be introduced in congress, to give private security the access it needs.

Fifth, a coalition of interested parties-private security companies, chambers of commerce. Citizens’ groups, criminal justice agencies, and similar organizations-must bring pressure on state legislatures to regulate the industry.

Minimum selection standards should include a background and criminal record check, evidence of physical fitness, screening for substance abuse, proof of citizenship or intent to acquire it, and psychological testing-after hiring-for placement purposes.

Training requirements should include a minimum of 24 hours of initial classroom training and an additional 16 hours of on-the-job training.

Regulations should also mandate that a documented and verifiable record of supervision be maintained for each guard location.

This five-point program, if acted on, would lead to an immediate and tangible increase in the quality of private security services. There are those who would say that this program is too ambitious. That it demands too much. That too many vested interests stand in the way. But this program can be implemented, and it will be. If enough concerned citizens and organizations—and criminal justice professionals—commit themselves to bringing it about.

That’s the challenge facing the private security industry in the 1990s. It’s a challenge that can be met given dedication, integrity. And a total commitment to excellence.

And it’s a challenge that holds opportunities for ambitious, dedicated, hard-working individuals. As private security continues to grow, so will the demand for professionals who are drawn by the opportunity to have a vast impact on an entire industry and on society as a whole.

There are valid reasons for being optimistic about improving the private security industry in the coming years. I wish I could say the same about the state of justice in America.

We face enormous problems in trying to turn our current system of   criminal punishment into one of criminal justice. Rising crime rates, easy access to guns, the spread of drugs, the clogged court system, the national turn away from belief in rehabilitation, and the cost of incarceration are but a few of the many obstacles that confront us.

But however difficult these problems are to solve, we must come to grips with them as a people if we are to create a society of justice. And we must not allow effects to become confused with causes. We must not use our limited resources to fight shadows rather than substance.

Underlying all the particular problems of our criminal justice system are two general trends that we should find alarming.


The first is that we are an increasingly punitive society. Between 1975 and 1985, the united states prison population more than doubled. Today our prisons and jails hold some one million inmates, and if we add people on probation and parole, almost four million people are being overseen by the correctional system. That is approximately one out of every 50 adults in the country. The United States imprison more people longer than any other developed nation besides South Africa.

The second disturbing trend is the increasing racial disparity of the inmate population. Today one-fourth of all black males in their twenties are either behind bars, on parole, or on probation. In our country right now, we have more black men as inmates of our prisons and jails than we have as full-time students in our colleges.

There are undoubtedly many root causes of crime, but one thing we know for sure is the relationship of crime to poverty, unemployment, and lack of hope. Justice means more than jails and judges. It also means equal access to equal education, equal opportunity, and an equal chance at the good things in life.

Building a society of justice implies more than prisons, it also implies day care centers, so single mothers can go to work without fearing for their children. It implies a decent wage for a day’s work. And it implies a welfare system that does not drive the father out of the home.

There are no quick solutions to difficult problems, but there are many things that can be done to make our society and our justice system more just.

First, we need to put more resources into research in criminal justice. Currently, only seven-tenths of one percent of the money spent on criminal justice goes to research. Second, we need to establish strong and meaningful programs that focus on the causes of crime, especially for the young. Crime prevention at its best includes better housing, improved health care, and effective job training.

Third, we should recognize teenage pregnancy as a major cause of poverty in our country and fund the necessary educational programs to teach teenagers both the responsibilities and the liabilities they can look forward to as parents.

Fourth, we must provide strong and effective programs to deal with first-time offenders to divert them from a potential life of crime.

Fifth, we should make every effort to raise the educational level and training of police officers to improve their overall performance. In addition to their already great difficulties, new challenges are being posed by the continuing waves of immigration. With different languages and customs adding tremendously to our cultural diversity.

Sixth, we must find a way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

We face numerous challenges in this decade-both in private security and in criminal justice, both in safeguarding society and in building a more just society. But they are exciting challenges, and ones that we must meet, that we shall meet, with justice for all.


Thank you.