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The rise of the security guard in Jamaica

Published:Wednesday | September 22, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dennie Quill, Contributor

THE LOCAL private-security industry has mushroomed over the last several years, providing work for hundreds of unskilled men and women. Statistics indicate private security is the fastest-growing industry in America and it is expected to grow by 17 per cent by 2016. In Britain, it is said employment in the private-security industry is surpassed only by employment in the leisure industry.

It is indeed tough out there. The job market is bad all around and, only recently, a New York lawyer was featured on television cleaning house, including scrubbing toilets for $60 a day after she lost her $160,000 a year job.

With the escalation of crime, including theft and fraud, business owners are forced to take steps to protect life and property and so, increasingly, there is a reliance on security guards to do this job. The police, stretched as they are in this high-crime environment, are unable to provide the kind of protection required, so a quasi-force has quickly developed, employing some persons of questionable character, including some who were dismissed by the police and military.

A common sight

Although they are not unionised and are poorly paid, security guards don their uniforms and can be seen doing duties in stores, banks, offices, apartment complexes, car parks, schools, hospitals, even churches. Some oganisations have a mix of in-house and external security personnel.

Because of this phenomenal growth in the private-security industry, members of the public are more likely to encounter a security guard than a police officer as they go about their daily business. I have seen some of them at work and I find most of them to be very crude and totally hostile to members of the public.

Guards believe the uniform gives them authority and a gun gives them power, but the truth is they fall short of the authority of a member of the security forces. However, this does not stop them from abusing members of the public, making up rules as they go along and being generally obnoxious.

Recently I observed three school children, aged between eight and 10, walking into a shopping complex in Liguanea and the security guard descended on them and, in a most aggressive manner, drove them from the premises. One does not know whether he was given orders to bar children from entering the area, but it was disgusting to hear the verbal abuse to which the children were exposed. The sad fact is that security guards are answerable only to their employers.

Over-exerting authority

In another incident at the Norman Manley airport, a woman stood at the entry to the immigration section, waving goodbye to her son. She was in no way obstructing anyone and had been standing there for a while under the watchful gaze of two guards. Along came another female guard, ordering her to move away. The woman explained that there was no sign forbidding anyone to stand there, she was not obstructing anyone and just wanted to make sure her son was okay. Like a bull on way to the rodeo, the security guard started to huff and puff. An ugly incident was averted when the woman calmly walked away.

There are several other unpleasant situations involving security guards that have come to my attention, but space does not allow me to relate more of them.

Operators of security firms do not make a great investment in training their employees and, apparently, the turnover is rapid. Their attitude has served to undermine public support for them. The industry is highly unregulated and it is time attention is turned to security guards requiring rigorous background checks, tests for drug use, as well as a minimum period of training. For all their alleged abuses, the police and military are subject to scrutiny by various levels of command, but security guards remain a law unto themselves.

denniequill@hotmail.com