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Durban - The government is tightening the screws on the private security industry by instituting measures that will make it illegal for guards to wear a uniform resembling that of the country’s security agencies.

The proposal was gazetted recently as part of a series of measures aimed at regulating the sector, which is the largest in the world with 450000 registered active private security officers.

Once the proposals have been gazetted, a public hearing process and feedback will be given to the Department of Police. It would then be presented before Parliament, where it is either debated further or adopted as law.

If passed, the proposal will see security companies - whose officers wear either blue, camouflage or brown uniforms - face the might of the law. The proposal also includes the management of firearms and dogs.

It states that it will be a criminal offence if private security uniforms resemble the SAPS, SANDF or Correctional Services gear.

Companies that have such uniforms, badges and insignia, which could be mistaken for state authority services, will be fined and/or imprisoned for up to two years. Private security uniforms must be clearly marked with badges with the words “private security”.

Guards, the proposal said, would also need to wear a second badge bearing their names and personal registration number. The company logos and uniform should be approved by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira).

The proposal further stated that guards should not use their own firearms for work. Private security firms are compelled to provide them.

One of the country’s biggest security companies, G4S, would be massively impacted if the proposal gets the green light. A spokesperson said it was in contact with the government and was ready to contribute to any consultation work that is carried out.

Marshall Security’s Dave Campbell said there were already provisions in place dealing with the type of fabrics that could and could not be used.

“It is not acceptable to have a blanket ban on colour, no matter what the design of the uniform or shade of the colour. The clause that deals with the fact that a private security uniform may not be identical, an imitation or resemble or be capable of being mistaken for that of the South African Police Service, addresses their concerns more than adequately,” he said.

Campbell said crime was out of control and police cannot cope.

“That is not in dispute by anyone, including the SAPS themselves. Security officers are very often the first to come into contact with armed gangs, armed with assault rifles, and need to protect themselves and the public,” he said.

Gareth Newham of the Institute of Security Studies said it is important for private security guards to be clearly identified as separate from the police.

“This is because private security guards do not have the legal powers of state police. In fact, private security guards have no more powers than any other citizen. Also, if police officers or private security personnel engage in misconduct or break the law, it will assist investigations if possible victims or witnesses can clearly differentiate between the two,” he said.

Police Minister Bheki Cele said police and security guards’ uniforms should not look alike.

“This is not a new idea. Former police minister Jackie Selebi proposed this during his tenure. People must be able to clearly differentiate between a police officer and a security guard. Many private security companies were aware of this proposal. It is time for them to toe the line,” he said.