Better Safe Than Sorry Hiring Security for Your Building

Better Safe Than Sorry

Even though crime statistics are lower in New York City today than they have been in decades, the fact remains that in an urban metropolis such as this, crime is a reality. It only takes one break-in or personal assault to focus everyone’s mind on crime prevention and their own personal safety. Even buildings that already employ a doorman, a super, and maintenance staff may still consider hiring a security guard.

But what exactly is involved in hiring a security guard? Should you rely on your building’s management to find the right security company? Should you hire an independent security guard not affiliated with a company? What about questions of licensing, insurance, reputation, and so on? Where should your building even start the process?

Get Proposals, Not Bids

The first step in the search for a security guard is finding companies to present your board with proposals outlining the services they offer. Most times, you can find the names of reputable companies by asking around. Find out which security companies are being hired by other buildings in your area, and by other buildings or complexes of a comparable size to yours. Once you (or your manager) come up with a list, invite several to come speak to your board of directors.

A word of caution is in order, however.  “What you want is someone who has expertise in detecting and deterring criminal activity,” says Anthony Poveromo, a retired NYPD officer and founder and president of 21st Century Security, Inc., in Brooklyn. “Don’t let price dictate the hiring of a security company.”

“Unfortunately, for most buildings it ends up being a matter of finance,” says James Greco, President of Long Island Security Consultants, Inc., and Long Island K-9 Service, Inc., both in Manorville. “And usually the cheapest bidder gets the job. But when you’re hiring somebody, your biggest concern should be getting the right person for the right job. The bottom line is, you get what you pay for.”

Something many boards and managers don’t realize is that the security company often gets a cut of what each individual guard or officer makes per hour. So if you go cheap and limit your hourly rate to, say, $15 to $20 per hour, then the individual guard is most likely only getting paid $7 to 10 per hour. What kind of employee are you getting for that low of an hourly rate? Probably not a great one.

“If you just go searching for the lowest bid, it’s almost never going to work out, because the companies that give the lowest bids oftentimes have many deficiencies,” reports Mark Lerner, Ph.D., president of EPIC Security Corp., a Manhattan-based company that supplies both armed and unarmed guards. “You have to be price-conscious but you can’t, in this business, go strictly for the lowest bid because that almost always ends in disappointment.”

The pros advise that when your board sits down with a security company, ask for a list of other buildings the company protects, and plan to visit these buildings. Be certain to ask for references, verification of the company’s license to employ security guards in the state of New York, and proof of insurance. If image is important to you, inquire about dress codes for the company’s guards. Also, do you need a car patrol for your building or complex? If so, what kind of vehicles do the security officers drive?

License and Registration, Please

Some buildings opt to skip hiring a licensed company, thinking they can get a better deal simply hiring an independent guard. Bad idea. Without the company backing the guard, you would have no assurance that the guard you have working in your building is capable of doing the job—and little protection if that guard’s actions on the job somehow lead to a lawsuit.

In order to be able to employ security guards, every security guard company in the city must be licensed as a “Watchguard and Patrol Agency” by the State of New York. By licensing these companies, the state can ensure their proficiency and background. And by hiring a guard through a legitimate, licensed company, you can ensure that you’re hiring a true professional, well capable of protecting your property and your residents.

In hiring individuals for their companies, watchguard agencies first interview a potential employee, making certain that he or she has done the required 24 hours of training required by all security guards in the state of New York.

Next, the company would submit the potential employee’s fingerprints to the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services and the National Crime Information Center, the FBI system. The guard will be unable to work in the state of New York if he or she’s been convicted of any felony and most misdemeanors.

“The state sets the rules for the crimes they’re looking for, and will not issue a guard certificate if you have a record for these crimes,” explains Lerner, a Ph.D. criminologist and former college professor.

Some companies go a step further and do drug testing of potential guards. This testing has been upheld by government agencies, which have found that companies have the right to discriminate based on drug use.

Protect Yourself

Buildings should also make sure that the security guard company they hire has the appropriate insurance. Be sure to lay your eyes on the insurance binder and also ask to have your building named as an “additional insured.”

“If a company claims to have insurance but cannot provide an insurance binder, then I would say skip that company,” says Greco, “because if something happens, you’re stuck holding the bag. Unfortunately, things happen. If someone gets hurt, the first thing they’re going to do is turn around and sue you and, if you don’t have insurance, you’re done.”

What constitutes “adequate” insurance? First, start with liability insurance. Many guard companies would recommend a minimum of $1 to $2 million in liability insurance, even though the state only requires a minimum insurance policy of $100,000 per occurrence.

“In my opinion, $100,000 per occurrence is grossly inadequate,” argues Lerner. “I think the company should have at least $1 million as a bare minimum — and to be on the safe side, I would personally recommend $10 million per occurrence. If someone is killed in a wrongful death, an accident, or a confrontation, then a judgment could be in the millions of dollars.”

Another type of insurance that is required by law is worker’s compensation insurance. Most people might think only about general liability, but this doesn’t cover a guard who gets hurt on the job. Security guard companies are required by law to have worker’s compensation insurance, and face fines if they don’t. However, it’s a good idea to make sure that the company you hire has it, anyway.

Another type of insurance Lerner recommends is fidelity bond, or employee’s dishonesty insurance, since neither general liability nor worker’s comp cover any illegal acts committed by an employee.

For example, fidelity bond insurance would cover damages if a dishonest security guard with access to keys were to let himself into an apartment for the purpose of stealing something.

“A lot of people mistakenly believe this is covered by general liability,” warns Lerner. “But most general liability excludes dishonest acts committed by an employee.”

For his part, Lerner doesn’t recommend very high limits—$100,000 per occurrence should suffice—but he does think security companies should offer this type of insurance.

Armed Or Unarmed?

Since September 11, many more buildings are choosing to hire armed guards to secure their residents. Before that terrible date, the use of armed guards by residential buildings in the city was virtually unheard of, according to Lerner. Most often, armed guards could only be found in banks, jewelers’ businesses, department stores, valuable courier services, and commercial or government buildings.

“Most criminals are deterred by the sight of any guard,” Lerner explains. “But research has shown that although terrorists are not deterred by electronic devices like closed-circuit TV or alarm systems, they are deterred by an armed, uniformed guard.”

But armed guards need more training and stricter screening by security companies—and thus come at a significantly higher price.

“If you have an armed guard, he has to go through specific training with his firearm,” says Greco, whose company primarily hires retired New York City police officers with 15 to 25 years of security experience. “And if you train with your firearm, you can become very proficient, but that doesn’t mean you have the brains upstairs to use the weapon. That’s why we’re a firm believer in employing law enforcement personnel.”

The Cost of Security

Rates for security officers or guards for your building depend on various factors. Some buildings might choose to have security guards working only the day shift hours, whereas others might choose to have one only during the night. Others want a guard 24/7 and are willing to pay for it.

“Most buildings want a security guard,” reports Lerner. “The consideration then becomes their budget. Guard service is not inexpensive.”

Depending on the hours you choose and the company you decide to go with, an unarmed guard can range anyway from $13 to $32 per hour, per officer, while an armed guard can command anywhere from $24 to $40 per hour, per officer.

“Buildings might not want to spend that much,” says Greco. “But you want someone who is going to do a good job securing your premises and protecting your children, your tenants, and your building. You want someone who gives your residents that sense of security people are really longing for these days. Experience is key. You can take a course on how to build a house, but that doesn’t mean that if someone puts a hammer and nails in your hand that you can build a house. Look for that experience.”

Domini Hedderman is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania and a frequent contributor to The Cooperator.

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  • An important aspect to consider when hiring a contractor to provide security services is that whatever rate you agree upon with the contract security company is not what the security guard they send to you property is going to get paid, in fact it is usually far less then the rate you are paying, for example: let's say you agree to have a guard posted during your hours of operation let's say 8:00am to 5:00pm at a rate of $20 per hour for each guard. The company will pay that guard anywhere from minimum wage to about $12 per hour. So in a sense you are paying $20 hour for about $9 an hour (average) worth of work. This guard is most likely not getting any type of benefits(health insurance, paid time off, 401k) This is an industry standard. The turnover rate of Security Guards is between 100-300% annually with most guards quitting after only a few months on the job or in as little as weeks after employment. This completely negates the effectiveness of 'Security' furthermore , most security companies only give their guards the minimum required training. Think about it. would you rather have a guard that is unfamiliar with you property and wouldn't recognize ordinary day to day activity from any unusual activity or occurrences or do you want a guard that knows who knows the routine,knows who the regular faces and names on a daily basis. I'm willing to bet it's the latter that is the desired. You should know your Security guard and they should know you otherwise you are in effect trusting your security to a complete stranger.If you were to do a study of private security guards around the country you will see that most Contract security company guards have low morale and will have similar complaints which is the reason for the high turnover rate and low job performance. If you choose to employ the services of a private security company ask them how the hourly rate of the guards are in relation to the set hourly rate they are charging you Ideally, the guards should be making about 60-75% of the hourly rate they are charging you . Ask them about the training. because most of the guards have not had any training outside of the required minimum training, which is usually between 6 to 24 hours. Police Officers are trained annually with mandatory Re-qualifying to keep their licenses active. this is not the case with private security. (Which could leave your company open to both criminal and civil liability or both.) for any action or inaction by the Security Guard that may be determined to be negligent ,illegal, or inappropriate. Also If you are paying for experienced guards you need to be sure you get experienced guards who are paid based on that experience. A common practice among security companies is to charge a premium rate for an experienced guard only to replace them with inexperienced guards a few weeks into the contract. They will then use the Experienced guard at another location to justify the Premium rate they are charging them. Another practice that is common is to pay the experienced guard the same salary as a guy fresh off the street with no security experience whatsoever. In Summation: I'm not trying to scare you away from hiring a private company to provide security for your property , I am only trying to shed some light as to the way the industry operates and to arm potential clients with the information so they can make an informed decision when hiring a private security company. Get what you pay for and only pay for what you get. And above all Read and Understand the contract as they are often filled with ambiguous wording and industry lingo that may be foreign to someone outside the industry.
  • While well written, the comments above are a reiteration of the original writers article. I am guessing Epic. NYPD officers are usually trained poorly if at all and constantly watch the clock. Just because they have a gun does not make them a gun. This article is geared at prepping you for a 300 hourly bill for a retired police sgt that has experience in ticket writing and fund raising for Mayor Bloomberg.
  • The industry at least in Florida is nothing but cut throat being about 300 firms are licensed in this state and they all are trying to get contracts. The problem is that due to this companies themselves have degraded what security guard work was meant to be in regards to keeping an eye on property and people. Many in fact from around the country come to Florida for its "right-to-work-or-be-fired" work theme. In Florida the pay is peckish if not absurd with little or no benefits to speak of. Traditional guard work is being tainted with extra none related work i.e. the politically correct word "valued added services" in order to get the client to sign off. I see it everywhere here security guards doing things not related to the job at all from cleaning out fleet vehicles (they are supposed to be watching over) to delivering mail and packages (so who's watching the lobby or front door?) and the list goes on. Why hire a firm that pays its people 12.00 and hour that does nothing but security when you can hire the other firm that pays 9.25 and hour and get the guards to do other stuff. An unwritten rule here seems to be "hey-work-or-go-someplace-else" attitude and they can do that. It seems to be also an acceptation that the rotating door of turn around is an expected. I worked for G4S aka Wackenhut for 26 years and made very good money but when the firm opened a few offices in Florida I decided to follow. That was a mistake and now I'm making 10.25 and doing things I never did before. I plan on moving back once things settle or go back to being a bagger at Publix at least there respect was constant and you where treated like a person. These companies are the very term of cheap labor here in because Florida is the cheap labor state and I fear is becoming nation wide for an industry that should be what it was meant to be' security not armed paperboy slash mail carrier and custodian. JMHO yours butts out there. Neo
  • Thank you for letting me know that the best way to hire a guard is to present a board with proposals that outline their responsibilities. I will keep this tip in mind for the future when I need one. In the meantime, I will think about what services I need. Thanks!
  • I like how you say that you need to find a security service that will provide you with a proposal of their services. It would make sense to know what they will be offering you before you actually hire them. This would allow you to know what the guard's duties would be and how much you will be paying as well.