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.
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.