Johannesburg - Insiders in the private security industry say badly trained security guards are a crisis threatening the entire industry.
They in particular slammed guards who responded to a crime in progress but were too scared to enter a property – rather choosing to sit safely in their cars or park further down the block and wait for back-up.
“Companies do not provide a proactive approach, it is all reactive,” said one security consultant, one of the insiders who spoke to The Star exclusively.
The consultant has worked in the industry for many years and wants to remain anonymous, as do others.
An insider shared one company’s statistics for crimes in Joburg and also revealed there were hundreds of complaints from clients – usually because of a slow response.
The statistics showed thousands of crime incidents a year, particularly house robberies and hijackings which took place almost daily.
Consultants The Star spoke to saw the training of guards as a big problem.
“There is general training on things like how to use a firearm, but it isn’t sufficient. As a result, many of the guards are not confident and they are filled with fear when they arrive at a scene,” according to one insider.
Guards should be getting training on hostage situations and advanced self-defence, he believed.
Founder of community crime-fighting organisation eBlockwatch Andre Snyman said nobody wanted to ask the uncomfortable questions.
“Preventative measures can’t be happening on a large scale or we would see a decrease in the crime rate,” he noted.
He said one needed to ask why armed-response guards stood back and waited outside a property, instead of going in and helping.
“I believe a lot of companies’ mandates are to let the perpetrators go, and take care of the people.”
Our contacts said many signed up for security after a crime incident.
“When you have an armed robbery, the first response is to sell you better security measures. These can cost anywhere between R30 000 and R100 000.
“Security companies make money out of people’s basic needs. It is a basic need to feel safe and they prey on that,” said an insider.
One marketing technique used was to bring several patrol vehicles into an area when they wanted to sign up new clients. Once enough people had signed up, there would be only one vehicle to a suburb, manned by one security guard.
“If customers complain, they are told to try and sign up more houses, so that another vehicle can be sent to the area,” a woman said.
The consultants advised that the best security measure was to build relationships with your neighbours and keep your eyes open to any changes in the area.
These insights into the industry come at a time when private security has been under the spotlight because of the controversial Private Security Industry Regulation Amendment Bill. It is one of the laws that went before President Jacob Zuma before the elections.
While there were aspects of the bill people said were disastrous for the country (in particular the handing over of 51 percent of foreign companies to South Africans), there were elements of regulation they agreed must take place.
An Institute for Race Relations (IRR) study this year showed that the number of security guards increased six times faster than police, and that robberies doubled. There are 445 000 registered guards and 270 000 public security officers.
“The rapid growth in demand for private security seems to be driven by corresponding rises in house robberies – which grew by 100 percent – and business robberies – which grew by 200 percent – between 2003 and last year,” said Kerwin Lebone, a security researcher at the IRR.
Johan Burger and Gareth Newham, from the Institute for Security Studies, in a presentation to Parliament on the proposed amendment bill, said the private security industry faced many shortcomings.
“These include the non-registration of personnel and businesses, poor training, inadequate vetting and background checks, the issuing of firearms to persons who are not competent to use them and the failure to pursue criminal or disciplinary action against security personnel who break the law.
“These are all credible and legitimate reasons for improving regulation.” their submission said.
However, Burger said there were also many positive elements about private security.
“It helps people to feel safer and guards have a better response time than the police.
“They are also easier to contact because you have an alarm and panic button, whereas with the police you have to call them.”