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New law requires guards in state to get certification

By David A. Smith

Republican-American - February 13, 2005 - There's more to being a security guard than just slapping on a uniform and a badge and picking up a portable radio.

But not until last fall were any of Connecticut's estimated 60,000 security officers required to meet any statewide certification standards. As of Oct. 1, 2004, a new state law requires all security officers -- whether they work for private security firms or for companies that employ their own security guards -- to pass an eight-hour certification course, register with the state and undergo a nationwide criminal background check.

"You just can't have anybody going out and representing themselves as security," said Thomas Sweeney, chief of police in Glastonbury and co-chairman of the Private Security Committee of the Connecticut Chiefs of Police Association. The committee, which includes representatives from law enforcement and private security agencies, had a hand in developing the new guidelines.

"The public should at least have an expectation that when they turn to someone in a uniform they can expect a proper response," Sweeney said. That means knowing applicable state laws and what security officers legally can and cannot do; knowing not to overstep those boundaries, and knowing how to summon other emergency agencies and how to interact with them.

Waterbury-based Naugatuck Valley Community College will offer certification courses covering those topics and others, starting next month at its Waterbury campus and Danbury Training Center. Each 8-hour course will cover basic first aid, search and seizure laws, the use of force, and basic criminal justice and public safety issues, said John Paul Izzo, who will teach the NVCC course.

"There's certain things out there that the security officer who's going out to do this job needs to know," said Izzo, a former hospital security director for 17 years and a security consultant the past 10 years. "Although there are many reputable security companies that required adequate training before this law went into effect, there were no minimum requirements, so there were no safeguards in place to protect the public."

Law fills a void

Prior to Oct. 1, only security officers working for so-called "contract" security firms, or those that contract to provide security for other entities, were required to register with the state, Izzo said. That registration included a state background check conducted by the State Police, but required no training component.

For security officers involved in so-called "proprietary" security, or companies that employ their own security officers overseeing company operations, there was no registration requirement, except for armed security guards. In both cases, firms could provide additional training, but it wasn't required, he said.

"Besides that, there was no training requirement," Izzo said. "There was no consistency across the board."

The certification courses, as required by the new law, at least lay out the basics, Izzo said.

"Participants should come out of this class with a solid understanding of what they can and cannot do under the law -- and most of it covers thing they cannot do," he said. "There are no special laws for security officers. Their job is to observe and report. In most instances, they're not allowed to even stop an individual, let alone frisk them or put them in handcuffs."

Among other things, the new law also requires:

Security officers employed before Oct. 1, 2004, to receive certification by Oct. 1, while new recruits after Oct. 1, 2004, must be certified before they can begin employment as a security officer.

All private detective and security companies, as well as all security guards -- armed and unarmed -- to register with the Department of Public Safety.

Security or detective companies to apply for an individual, two-year license for each type of security business in operation. All security firms must also provide the department with proof of security bond and general liability insurance.

Armed security guards to qualify annually with the weapon they will carry and use on duty. Previously, guards who carried firearms were required to complete firearms training and certification only once.

In short, the law lays out minimum parameters anyone now putting on a security officer's uniform must meet, Sweeney said.

"The major, reputable firms out there already train substantially above the eight hours," Sweeney said. "The better ones will have no problem meeting it."

'Long overdue'

That's been the case at Saint Mary's Hospital in Waterbury, said Lance Lusignan, the hospital's security manager. Lusignan oversees 23 officers providing security for the hospital's downtown campus and outlying operations.

"Many states already have the certification for security officers," he said. "I think that for Connecticut it was long overdue."

Saint Mary's already required its security officers to complete the hospital's own 40-hour, in-house certification course, which was developed using standards from the International Association of Hospital Safety and Security. Lusignan took that program and adapted it to the new law, adding another four hours to the Saint Mary's program to meet state requirements for sections covering the history of security, detailed search and seizure procedures, and more details on the use of force, with a focus on Connecticut case law.

"This will give the security officer an idea of the responsibilities a police officer has, along with the standards that a security officer can operate under," he said. "Security officers are actually first responders. We have to work hand in hand with the police. I think this is good because it gives the security officer an idea of the rules and the guidelines the police officers are under and what each of the responsibilities are on different complaints."

It was an issue that had been under discussion for the better part of a decade, Sweeney said. One of the difficulties, he said, was setting standards for an industry with widely varying roles.

"The reputable firms would all say there should be a higher standard for training," but setting those standards presented a problem because different types of security operations have different needs, he said. "You can't think of private security as a monolith."

The requirements for a security officer at a hospital, for instance, are significantly different from those of an officer at a retail store or of a night watchman.

"It's a very mixed bag of needs and it's difficult to work through," he said. "The law at least establishes some parameters. For the first time, it sets a minimum training standard."

Reaching that point required compromise, said Harry J. Azano, the other co-chairman of the Connecticut Chiefs of Police Association's Private Security Committee. Azano, president of The Professionals, a West Haven-based security and safety consulting firm, has been in the industry about 30 years and is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

"There are several states throughout the country with varying degrees of regulations on uniformed security. Connecticut had not had that," Azano said. "Our idea was to have more than the eight hours. The larger and more reputable firms do typically exceed that."

He credited Rep. Stephen D. Dargan, D-West Haven and the co-chairman of the General Assembly's Public Safety Committee, with backing the measure during the legislature's last session. The final legislation passed unanimously in May, and state police are enforcing the new requirements, arresting two Bristol men late last month and early this month after a background check discovered prior arrest records.

Like others in the industry, Azano said the requirements lay the groundwork for further development down the road. Lusignan agreed.

"One of my first objectives as a security supervisor was to make the job that we have as security officers a profession, instead of just a job," he said. "I think what you'll see in the future is that it may develop into a better training program."

This here's just the tip of the iceberg."



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