By Mike Bowles

Security has been an essential element in society since the dawn of time. And private security officers have existed literally centuries before the first police department was established in 1829. In Ancient Egypt, pharaohs hired private security officers for personal protection. Ancient Roman emperors of the Byzantine Empire also hired security officers to protect their families and property. The private security industry that we know today was officially founded in 1850 by Allan Pinkerton with the establishment of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency based in Chicago. The primary clients of the agency were railroad operators which often fell victim to robbed passengers and/or cargo. In the mid-1800s, there were no federal authorities to chase outlaws across state and territorial lines, and local law enforcement was too poorly equipped to pursue fleeing gangs very far. Therefore, the job fell to crime victims and their hired agents. The Pinkerton Agency’s work for the railroads helped build an international reputation for the company. Aside from private policing, security officers of this era had a more comprehensive role which included thoroughly investigating crimes and security consulting.

Regulation of the private security industry commenced in 1915, when licensing of private investigators became mandatory in California. Around the same period, automaker Henry Ford began hiring private security guards to protect his factories. Other businesses caught on and they began to use private security too. During the strikes in the coal mines, security guards were hired by mine owners to protect them from the angry workers. Between 1929 and 1939, private security employment declined as a result of the Great Depression but rebounded between 1940 and 1945, due to the need to protect the United States infrastructure and military and industrial facilities during World War II. After World War II, private security once again began to grow, due to many returning veterans, with military police experience selecting police work and private security as occupations. The 1950’s and the Cold War saw a heightened emphasis on government and plant security services. Now there was a need for protection not just from thieves and vandals, but also from sabotage and espionage. By the mid-1970s all states had licensing requirements for private security companies and the security officers they employed. Mandatory background checks and drug screening soon followed. As the security field diversified in the 1980s and became more responsive to the needs of business, a management model quickly began to dominate how security was perceived and what its functions would be. Security practitioners and innovative business managers began to view the functions of security as an essential component of business. As a result, security departments were incorporated into the organizational culture of many companies, and security managers were assigned to oversee the security program and work collaboratively with other department managers. The 9/11 attacks in 2001 triggered a great shock and sense of insecurity throughout the country, which lead to an increasing trend for private security. Many companies increased their spending by investing in private security after the attacks. After this increase, the industry only began to grow more, leading to a current industry worth of over $400 billion with over a million security officers. The industry keeps growing as technology develops, because of the need to meet rising demands. Population growth, decreasing resources, and terrorism also fuels the industry on.

Over the years the role of private security has markedly changed to a more complex form of businesses which provide, for a fee, services to clientele to protect their persons, their private property, and their interests from various hazards. Early in its existence, training provided by the private security industry was inadequate at best. Over the last several decades training has radically evolved, and with that evolution came strict standards and guidelines. Specialized training in today’s world has become particularly critical, demanding that security officers be especially skilled in public relations, communication/report writing, access control, de-escalation tactics, and active shooter/emergency response. Security Officer compensation has dramatically increased as well, as industry efforts to attract more competent individuals in a fiercely competitive labor market persist.

A uniformed private security officer’s main function is risk mitigation and is usually accomplished by being visible and vigilant. A common industry mantra is: “detect, deter, observe, and report.” By reducing crime at their assigned location, security officers allow local law enforcement more time to police other critical areas. This is an extremely important public service to the community that rarely gets the credit it deserves. Over the past decade, the private security industry has noticeably become more professional, skilled, responsive, and integrated. As the criminal and security threats facing the public and private sectors become increasingly pronounced and complex, and as the resources of traditional law enforcement and police services become increasingly overstretched, the security industry has had to quickly position itself as a highly effective and responsive alternative. Notwithstanding that many jurisdictions have significantly increased the licensing requirements for security services at both the individual and firm levels, the security industry itself has taken on a major role in coming together through various national and international bodies to raise the profile, quality, and capacity of security professionals.

While understanding that many private security officers at various firms still receive minimal training and are relatively low paid, there nevertheless is an expectation that security officers perform at an appropriate level of professionalism. Virginia Security officers are required to be licensed by DCJS (Department of Criminal Justice Services). To be licensed as an unarmed security officer one must go through 18 hours of classroom training from a licensed instructor to obtain this card and it must be done by the end of their 90 days after hire with a Security company. Every two years the card must be renewed, by completing refresher training with a licensed instructor. To be licensed as an armed security officer one must complete an additional 16 hours of firearms training, 6 hours of training on conducting a lawful arrest, and qualification with the type and caliber of weapon they intend to carry. Firearms endorsements must be renewed annually by completing refresher training and passing a firearms qualification. Licensed armed security officers are authorized under state code to arrest for any offense committed in their presence while they are on duty at the location they are hired to protect.

Top Guard is doing its part to stay ahead of the evolving industry curve, establishing standards well above the DCJS minimum requirements. Utilization of advanced technology and reporting mechanisms are part of our proactive approach to ensure officers maintain consistent and measurable levels of performance. Additionally, Top Guard does not rely on DCJS to remind officers of pending re-certifications. Employees receive automated reminders of compliance re-certifications through our TeamTime software and personal assistance from our Compliance Agent and Training Director to schedule classes and manage paperwork, ensuring timely renewals. We offer a comprehensive scope of training classes convenient for officers’ schedules through our In-House Training Academy, CVTA. Additionally, Top Guard Account Managers receive weekly notifications of their officer’s certification status, vital to ensuring that proper training and staffing levels are maintained. Internal audits are frequently conducted to establish checks, balances, accountability, and testing, to ensure that site specific security directives are being carried out efficiently. Top Guard’s business model underscores quick response, attentive coordination among Top Guard’s executive management team to deliver resources when needed, verified officer competency to include documentation of all specific pre-assignment, OTJ and continuing education training, and frequent self-generated performance reviews to give our customers confidence in their security program.