Guarding Sector Must Come Clean Says Guarding SA

The number of crimes committed against South African business is constantly climbing – and a substantial portion of this problem can be attributed to poor standards in the security guarding segment of South Africa’s R50 billion private security industry.

Bernardo Luis, operations director at Guarding SA, has warned that both security companies and the companies that employ them need to get their houses in order if there is to be any chance of stemming the 380 percent rise in business crime that has occurred since 2004/5 (Source: Institute of Security Studies).

He said that problems ranging from guards falling asleep on the job to those working in cahoots with organized syndicates and turning a blind eye to goods that are brazenly transported out of companies’ warehouses contributed to the 7,5 percent increase in business crime recorded during the year ended April 2012. (Statistics released by the South African Police Services in September last year).

“It is extremely worrying if you look at how much crime is committed because people put too much trust in guards. Guarding is an extremely high risk environment. Guards are constantly being bought. Threats come from both within and outside organizations. A guard will be constantly approached and enticed by syndicates, dishonest employees operating within a company and even opportunists who want to get into a business.”

He said an influx of fly-by-night companies into the guarding sector, which turns over R18 billion and is the largest part of the industry (PSRIA), was severely compromising the delivery of guarding services.  In order to undercut rates charged by reputable companies, these companies did not employ suitable security guards and often paid below the minimum wage stipulated for the industry, increasing the chance of employees being tempted to commit crime.

As a result, he said, it was time to get back to basics. He pointed out that all companies as well as individual employees needed to be registered with the Private Security Regulatory Authority (PSRIA) as stipulated by the Private Security Regulation Act (2001) and subsequent amendments. The PSRIA website provides an online and extremely easy way to check credentials.  It is a legal requirement for companies who employ outsourced security guards to ensure that they are registered with PSIRA, even if companies employ their own in house guards, both the company and the guards need to be registered with the organization.

Luis advised that companies hiring guarding companies should also obtain references from other clients as well as investigate their operational and managerial systems. For starters, he said, companies should deal with guarding companies that both pre-screen and constantly monitor their staff.

Justicia Investigations’ Polygraph expert, Frans Van Biljon, said that just last week a security company had approached the company for assistance with a theft problem. “Polygraphs were used and it was established that a security guard that was holding a position of trust had been recently released from prison for armed robbery! This security officer was operating with a valid PSRIA certificate which is believed to be someone else’s. Had pre employment polygraph tests been done, this problem would have been avoided.

He said one of the underlying difficulties was that, with a turnover of R50 billion, the South African private security industry was not only one of the largest but also one of the fastest growing security employers in the world. Again according to PSRIA, the number of private security officers and private security companies in South Africa has increased by 111,30 percent and 66,7 percent respectively.

The size and the ease with which new entrants could be trained and absorbed into the sector often results in extremely fleeting employee loyalty with guards simply moving from company to company should they be dismissed for misdemeanours. “That’s why, for us, the crux is the screening process and maintaining that. Every single person who applies for a job at Guarding SA is polygraphed prior to being employed and also polygraphed periodically. We also infiltrate our own guards using undercover agents and offer a whistle blowing line. If we have two or three guys on site, you can rest assured that one is an undercover agent,” he said.

Guarding SA also carries out spot checks and a crime prevention team also regularly inspects sites.

From Guarding SA’s own experience, he said it was very worrying that, on average, 98 percent of applicants for guarding jobs failed the initial polygraph. “We have even found that many applicants have been dismissed from previous jobs for gross dishonesty or are even wanted by the police. They still have their registrations because few companies are prepared to report incidents.”

Despite the fact that investigations frequently uncovered major criminal operations in which security guards were often an integral part, companies that employed them either dismissed their guards without reporting them or simply moved a guard to a less risky site. “That employee should be investigated and charged. However, many companies in the guarding industry are afraid that they will risk their credibility by doing that,” he said, adding that many also failed to take action as they feared repercussions from terminating guards’ services.

Luis said that while there was a lot to be done within the guarding sector, security companies and their clients could begin to pull up their socks and participate in the “cleansing process” that would remove the many factors that tainted a sector that had a crucial part of play in the fight against crime in South Africa.

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