A lot can go wrong when the wrong private security company is on the job. Just ask the New York Port Authority and the company hired to watch over the new 1 World Trade Center building in Manhattan. In March of 2014, they found themselves at the center of a controversy after a teenager snuck by guards into the tallest building in New York, climbed to the top, and broadcast his stunt to the world.
In the end, no one was hurt, and the boy was convicted and sentenced to community service, time already served. So, no harm, no foul, right? Actually, no, far from it: safety and security were compromised at a site where such breaches, given what happened in 2001, should be unthinkable. Had more research been done to choose the right private security company and review its staff and standard operating procedures (SOPs), this embarrassing — and potentially lethal — incident could have been avoided.
As an owner of a background check and screening company, Gold Shield, and as a former law enforcement officer and private investigator, I’ve seen security breaches like this one too many times. With some basic research and foresight, you can hire the right private security company and rest easily at night knowing that your domain is safe.
How to narrow your options
So now you’ve decided to hire a private security company to monitor and protect your property. The first question is, “How do I find the right one?” Because the team you hire will be responsible for the safety of your residents, community, and physical property, selecting a private security company is one of the most critical decisions you’ll ever make as a property manager.
When you start your search, begin by considering this point: Many small security firms source their guards from employment pools. These smaller companies usually can’t afford to provide training and equipment or pay as well as the larger ones do, which means their guards may not be up to snuff, so it’s a good idea to begin by looking at larger firms.
Large or small, do your homework before signing a contract; as with most professional services, word-of-mouth referrals are best. Ask other property managers in your area which firm they use or if they can recommend one. Most people in the business will be more than happy to help.
If you don’t know any property managers, Google “property managers” in your local area and give a few of them a quick call. Once you gather a few recommendations, validate them by getting in touch with the Better Business Bureau or your local chamber of commerce.
Now that you have the names of a few private security firms, go to your state’s website to find out about state licensing requirements and laws governing private security firms. Additionally, your county may have laws governing the industry, so make sure to visit your county’s website.
Continue by going to the local department that oversees private security firms to determine if the agencies on your short list meet the legal requirements. Now log on to your county and circuit clerk of courts website to determine whether the candidates have ever been sued, and if so, for what. Clearly, a firm that has been sued for breach of contract is one to avoid. So far, so good.
7 questions to ask when interviewing security companies
Now make an appointment to meet with the sales agent or firm manager to discuss your needs and expectations. While you’re there, take note of how the office is run: crisp organized, and professional, or chaotic? If guards are at the office, do they appear professional, or do their uniforms look like they just tumbled out of the dryer?
The selection of a private security company is very important, so don’t hesitate to ask these questions:
- Is the firm insured and bonded, and by whom? This is the most important question, and if the answer is “no,” excuse yourself and leave.
- Are applicants for guard positions required to pass a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) compliant nationwide criminal background check, including a sexual offender screening?
- Is a pre-employment drug screening required? How about random drug screening after employment begins? A complete background and drug screening are vitally important to protecting your property and tenants.
- Do the new guards receive training, and are they required to complete annual remedial training for a refresher? The last thing you need are poorly trained, overzealous police officer-wannabes.
- What type of equipment does the agency provide? Every guard should be equipped with a professional uniform, photo ID visible to residents, watchman’s clock, handheld radio, flashlights, foul weather clothes, and a book of agency SOPs.
- Do the guards receive basic first aid and CPR training? This could be vital in a medical emergency.
- When the firm’s manager has answered all your all questions, lay all your expectations on the table. Your needs should be in the contract, and the details count. For example, consider these two reports from a guard following the SOP book:
- Walked around buildings 3, 5, 7, all secure. (Not good.)
- Completed a one-hour foot patrol every other hour between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., patrol pattern documented (such as: 00:00 to 01:00), patrolled buildings 3, 5, and 7. Found light left on and door unlocked to building 7 laundry room. Room secured. (Much, much better.)
Your guards always should have a watchman’s clock to document their actions. Driving around the property is good for securing parking lots and showing tenants and potential troublemakers that you’re on the job, but guards who don’t get out from behind the wheel can miss things, especially after dark. A foot patrol is always most effective.
Finally, when finalizing a contract, include the provision that your property management business is named as an additional insured and will be held blameless for any act of recklessness or neglect caused by the firm’s guards while on your property. As with any contract, read it carefully. And last but not least, make sure your attorney reviews it before you sign on the dotted line.
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