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New security guard law: nuisance or benefit?

The new New York State Security Guard Act, in effect since January 1, 1994, has brought radical change to the business of private security throughout the state. Now, approaching the end of the first year of implementation, we can make a preliminary assessment of how the new regulations have affected the New York real estate community. Does the new law really help, or is it just another nuisance added to building management?

The new law affects all employers of security guards - anyone employing a person whose principal function is "protection of individuals and/or property from harm, theft or other unlawful activity." Requirements include, among many items, comprehensive general liability insurance, specialized guard training, and certification that the employer has verified the information in all employment applications. These complex rules represent a complete turnaround from virtually no regulation whatsoever.

The most sweeping change - perhaps the biggest nuisance - is the new registration requirement. Now no one can be hired as a security guard (or continued as such) without a valid photo ID issued by the Department of State. New York has long required registration and/or licensing for many barbers, beauticians, stockbrokers, and real estate brokers, among others - but until now, just about anyone could be a security guard.

In order to register a guard, every employer must provide 8 hours of pre-assignment training and 16 hours of on-the-job training during the guard's first 90 working days. Specialized training is required for armed guards, including a 47-hour firearms course and 8 additional hours of on-the-job training. An annual 8-hour refresher course must be given to every guard.

When applying for the guard's photo registration card, the employer must pay an initial $36 fee (and a $25 renewal fee every two years), plus supply recent photographs, fingerprints and certification that pre-assignment training was completed and due diligence exercised in verifying the guard's application. Employers must notify the Secretary of State within 15 days if any guard is hired, resigns, retires or is terminated.

Do we really need all these regulations? Why enact so many stringent requirements? The answer is complicated, perhaps as complicated as the new law itself.

A starting point is the accelerating crime rate of the past 30 years, during which violent crime as well as crime against property has risen exponentially. Government law enforcement agents can no longer provide protection of property as they once did. People have developed a mind-set that police protection of property is not enough, to the point that private security guards now outnumber police by more than two to one.

There are presently more than 100,000 security guards in New York State, a 50 percent increase over the last decade. Because guards were not required to be licensed or registered or to complete any level of training or undergo nationwide criminal history background checks, many undesirable guards were hired, often at minimum wages. Results were often disastrous.

Some buildings hired their own security staff (proprietary services), but others utilized security guard companies (contract services). The latter were all too often fly-by-night setups, with minimum capitalization and no effective hiring standards.

Reputable companies, however, created their own regulations, providing special training and using drug tests, credit and motor vehicle checks, even psychological testing, before hiring guards. These stable, deep-pocket companies had the resources and flexibility to provide good service. They attracted better personnel by paying employee benefits. But they were the exception, not the rule. They cost more, and not everyone was willing to pay for their higher. standards.

Government regulation of private security guards was needed in order to raise hiring standards in the industry. Too many undesirables - sometimes convicted felons - were hired, and a substantial portion of guards were at best ineffective.

How is the new law affecting buildings in New York? It's too early to evaluate the overall effects since there are staggered filing dates extending into 1995 for registering prior employees. But some things are already apparent. Yes, the new law is a costly nuisance, but it does provide benefits, too.

The most obvious effect, of course, is cost. There is no question that the new law has elevated building maintenance costs. Registration fees, training, comprehensive insurance, higher wages - all of these add up. Handling increased paper-work is time-consuming and, therefore, costly.

Another effect has been a shift from proprietary services to contract services. Contract service companies have traditionally provided staff supervision, employee pensions, uniforms, replacement personnel, insurance, and other benefits. Now contract services also provide compliance with the new regulations and handle all the paperwork. Employers who previously hired their own security guards have a strong incentive now to contract out this function.

The beneficial effects of using more qualified, better trained personnel are immediately apparent in some buildings. The security guard is frequently the first person one sees when entering a lobby, so he or she sets the tone and affects the image of the building.

Another benefit is realized by building tenants. Improved security has a positive effect on tenants' employees, who are more willing to work evenings and weekends when they feel that security is tight.

Good security is a tangible service, and a lack of it can be disastrous. Just one incident - one robbery or one assault - will taint a building's reputation for years to come. The better-qualified, better-trained security personnel required by the new law will reduce the incidence of crime and therefore justify the increased costs.

Is the new law a nuisance? Yes, of course. Going from zero regulation to a whole slew of requirements is irritating and costly. But there are also benefits to be realized, which will become more and more apparent over time. Better protection of our lives and property will ultimately be better for us all.
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Copyright 1994, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Building Management & Maintenance; New York State Security Guard Act
Author:Schwartz, Milton
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 5, 1994
Words:957
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