Private Security Industry Falls Short

The ASIS conference in Dallas, Texas last month illustrated a new trend for security guard companies. Many of them diversify their service portfolio with technology offerings that may ultimately substitute for their core business of supplying security officers by the hour.  Remote CCTV monitoring services and autonomous security robots are being marketed by some of the largest security guard companies in the country.  And smaller companies are trying to follow in their footsteps.  One must wonder why security guard companies whose revenue is predominantly based on officers’ billable hours are promoting technologies that can replace the security officer at the mall, the parking lot or the high-rise building.

To their customers, guard companies say that these tech services are provided to augment and support the security officer, not to replace him/her.  But with the same breath, they market autonomous security robots and remote CCTV monitoring as a substitute for human security officers.  The new trend to branch out by providing security technology is no coincidence.  For a while now, security guard companies have been feeling the pain of dwindling profit margins in a competitive market where no guard company is set apart from its competitor.  They all sell the same security officers.  The only difference is the uniform.

Historically, the only way for security guard companies to stay competitive in this business has been to grow through acquisitions and mergers.  Through economies of scale those larger companies could offer the same service but at a lower margin.  In today’s business environment, opting for technology over manpower certainly makes economic sense.  Technology can generate high profit margins, the technology itself attracts less liability than does employing human officers and it can be branded and promoted as providing a competitive edge.

Security guard companies are not solely responsible for an industry that is reduced to selling security as a commodity with little consideration for effective performance.  For decades, buyers of security services have emphasized cost over quality and customer service over actual threat mitigation.  They opt to hire security contractors who provide security officers without real training or adequate qualifications.   (Every security guard company will tell you that their officers receive annual training and ongoing on the job training.  However, if you approach most mall, school or parking lot security officers and directly ask them how much training they have received from their employer, they’ll tell you their training was at best a couple of hours long and mostly covered employer rules and regulations.)

Officers have been taught to religiously follow ‘observe and report’ procedures.  Their officer training includes how to avoid situations where they may be called upon to actually protect or secure.  So essentially, most buyers have already accepted security officers working robotically.  Introducing actual robot guards is but a formality.

The government also holds some responsibility for the lack of quality and performance in the security guard industry.  Private security officers are the least regulated profession in the emergency response field.  Life guards, police officers, EMTs and others are mandated by state governments to meet physical, educational and tactical qualifications and they must go through reoccurring training to stay certified.  On the other hand, just about any security officer with a pulse can qualify to be on post and sometimes even this ‘qualification’ seems optional judging by the appearance and state of awareness some security guards display.

The current sad state of the security guard industry is the product of falling demand for quality security services on the part of the buyers, and a diminishing supply of qualified and well-trained security officers from security contractors.  The lack of quality guard services is exacerbated by the absence of a regulatory environment to enforce quality and performance in the industry.

Sadly, the real end users of security are citizens and the public at large. They are mostly unaware of security guard training levels and performance when they see guards posted at malls, schools and at buildings they frequent. The average customer for security when faced by an attack or violent crime will not look for the nearest security robot or for a remote CCTV monitor to step in.  He will look for a qualified, well trained and motivated security officer to act, engage and protect him from harm.  At a time when indiscriminate violent crimes and terrorism incidents are prolific, suppliers and buyers of guard services and government officials must come together to raise the standard of the private security industry.


  1. David Goldfarb on October 19, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    This is the key paragraph in the article:

    The current sad state of the security guard industry is the product of falling demand for quality security services on the part of the buyers, and a diminishing supply of qualified and well-trained security officers from security contractors. The lack of quality guard services is exacerbated by the absence of a regulatory environment to enforce quality and performance in the industry.

    The fact is part of the problem is the security companies allowing themselves to get into low bid, low quality service situations and continue to allow buyers to have environment that produces low trained and low quality guards. We need to fight this ongoing trend in our industry.

    • Wade Poland on October 19, 2017 at 6:11 pm

      Agree David! Or try to differentiate professional service that is a step above the rest. Some people will pay more knowing they get more, some people will always price shop. We tend to try and sell quality and explain the benefits.

  2. Wade Poland on October 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Great Article. So how do we change this?

  3. Richard Bower on October 19, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    More state mandated regulation will not help the situation and is not the answer to all that is wrong in this world. The problem is industry driven.

    There are two parts of the problem, one is that fact that large corporations, HOA’s and clients in general consistently go for the low bidder and hope that nothing bad happens. In this case they get exactly what they have budgeted for and asked for. What they are buying at times is a liability shield rather than a security service.

    The second part of this problem is that larger security companies always drive the price down while pushing a low quality product. They treat their security officers like numbers in a system and not like individuals who have intrinsic value. They promise great training programs and operational systems to client and employee alike but deliver neither.

    It is unbelievable that security officers who are assigned to protect millions of dollars in assets are routinely paid at or just barely above minimum wage as the contracting security company tries to eek out a profit at bill rates that are laughable if not pathetic.

    As an owner of a small security company I have fought this battle for 27 years and believe that if security company owners will stand fast and demand a reasonable bill rate, provide a professional service and pay security officers a decent salary all will benefit and the industry will improve.

  4. Gavin Heale on October 19, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    While I do agree that we are seeing a move towards commoditization and the lower profits that brings to security companies, I do not think all technology is bad. Many guard companies today use guard tour systems which help keep the security officer informed and make sure they are doing a quality job by tracking what they do and allowing them an efficient mechanism to report. Those companies that do not go this route risk not being able to compete against their more tech savvy competition. I do think you are correct that we will see a move towards robots and drones if humans do not step up and add more value and so security companies really need to think about how they can up their game and not just be low cost commodity body shops. Disclaimer – our company provides technology to help actual human security officers do a better job so I am probably a little biased 🙂

  5. Joshua Murire on October 19, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    This article really captures the state of the security industry. it is very surprising that the whole world fails to appreciate the need for reforms in the security industry given the ever increasing security threats faced by both individuals and organizations. Technology is certainly needed but it can never replace the need for well trained officers to drive the industry. I agree we need to fight this ongoing trend in our industry and avoid having it being made irrelevant.

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