Selecting A Security Contractor- What You Must Know

Last year I was approached by a somewhat overwhelmed Estate Manager for a well-known billionaire based in Silicon Valley. As she explained her situation, I realized she could use some advice on how to truly evaluate a contract security company.

In her words, security contractors “are a dime a dozen.” She, as well as many estate managers in her situation, had no clue how to differentiate between companies looking for a quick buck and those who legitimately have an interest in protective services and do a stellar job at it.  Unfortunately, it is all too common to see security firms with flashy webpages that end up providing a less than impressive service.  In short, I took the opportunity to meet her and explain a few points I have learned throughout my career.

Finding contract security firms is rather easy, but finding the right one can be a time consuming challenge in itself. Over the last 30 years, the security industry has consistently seen an increase in the number of companies available for hire. This number dramatically spiked following the attacks on 9/11 and once again during the recent withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. A simple internet search can provide you with hundreds of companies to choose from. The drawback is that most of them are low-budget, low-quality companies that provide an array of services (from mall security to executive protection) and are often staffed by inexperienced, part-time personnel who, at best, are just good enough to get the job done.

Hopefully, the following points will help assist in determining which contract security firm is best for your client.

Proper Coverage:  A veteran security company will offer to show you proof of their insurance policies to include worker’s comp insurance during the bidding process. It is a well-known fact that a worker’s comp policy for unarmed security guards is dramatically less than a policy for armed executive protection agents. Knowing this, the vast majority of security companies list their services as “unarmed security” to obtain low-cost policies but provide armed executive protection agents to their clients.  Insurance companies have recently caught on to this tactic and now routinely conduct investigations on companies they issue policies to. In one recent instance, a security company was found guilty of such fraud. A lawsuit was filed and the insurance policy was revoked, forcing the client to immediately lose his security agents during his overseas vacation.

Quality of Agents: This is one of the most important aspects you should focus on when receiving bids. When meeting with potential clients or their representatives, companies rarely show biographies of their agents or only show a select few of their top employees that may or may not be part of the security detail.  During their presentation to you, a security contractor should only show you the professional biographies of agents they have selected to protect your client. A quality bio will show the agent’s picture and give a brief narrative of his or her experience as well as a list of unique qualifications.  The most qualified agents are those who are fit, hold medical certifications, and have vast experience in defensive tactics and protective assignments. The security firm should then take the time to explain their recruitment and training process in order to prove that their people are legitimate, full-time employees that have gone through the proper pre-employment process.  Although all companies must conduct background investigations and drug screenings of potential employees, many stop there. A model security firm will go above and beyond by incorporating several interviews, a strict physical fitness test and an extensive training academy as part of their recruitment process. Companies that fall short of this often struggle to meet the needs and services called for.

It is also a common practice for security companies to subcontract the services of off-duty law enforcement personnel.  Despite being legal, this creates a conflict of interest for the law enforcement agency as well as the client for having certified peace officers working in a security capacity on their behalf.  The most common concerns with off-duty officers moonlighting as security agents relates to the intricacies of the sworn oath they are bound to uphold. Other major disadvantages include missed shifts and scheduling conflicts due to last-minute overtime assignments made mandatory by law enforcement agencies.  Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing more a part-time, off-duty officer can do to protect a client than a skilled, full-time executive protection agent can do.

Company Organization: As a standard practice, a large security company will assign a Detail Leader and Account Manager to the client. The Detail Leader is the highest authority on the security team and serves and go-to person for any issues you or the client may have. The Account Manager is the company’s 24/7 corporate representative (usually for several clients in the area) for contract inquiries. Several companies are now including yet another position that serves as liaison between you and the Account Manager as well as conducts routine audits of Detail Leaders and their teams.  Although well structured, there are many downfalls to having a chain of command with many tiers of authority between company owners and clients, the most notable being breakdowns in communication that lead to decreased quality of service.  The most efficient security companies are those that will ensure you have 24/7 availability with the owners and explain how company decision makers will interface with you and the security team on a weekly basis. Anything less is unacceptable and a good hint that a company is not properly equipped to meet your needs.  In my experience, clients have greater satisfaction with the service of small, locally-owned security companies than those with hundreds of employees and numerous offices around the nation.

Policies: Security companies that have a solid infrastructure will be able to show you examples of policies and emergency protocols they have set in place to quickly handle any security threat or emergency.  Although these policies will need to be tailored to your client’s environment, they are the foundation of operations and evidence that the company is fully capable and equipped to handle any situation. Prior to your first meeting, I encourage you to request specific examples of internal policies. These may include emergency protocols, confidentiality agreements and guidelines for employee conduct. Be extremely suspicious of companies that are unwilling to be transparent with this information, as it is likely an indicator that the company is less able to meet your security needs.

In summary, when working for affluent individuals, it is inherent that “good enough” just won’t cut it, so don’t allow a “good enough” security company to ever find their way to your client’s doorstep.  It is imperative to take the necessary time in selecting the proper security firm that complements your client’s particular lifestyle. Contrary to popular belief, security companies all differ in many ways.  From offering the right type of coverage and the quality of their staff, to their organization and company policies – These are all key components that should be carefully evaluated when selecting the right contractor.

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