Opinion: The Astroworld concert tragedy is a wake-up call for private security. Here’s why.


Gips is a Maryland-based security professional, lawyer and former executive with ASIS International, the world’s largest security association. He was responsible for certification, standards, guidelines, learning and content. Goldenberg is president of New Jersey-based Cardinal Point Strategies, a senior researcher at Rutgers University Miller Center and a 25-year law enforcement veteran. Flower is the director of safety and security at UC San Diego Libraries and a security consultant / trainer specializing in armed protection services. She was previously with the San Diego Police Department and the US Marshals Service.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the assignment of private security agents as quasi-medical workers: responsible for social distancing and respect for masks, contact tracers and temperature takers. They are already serving as first responders in schools, shopping malls, stadiums and local business districts. Yet many lack essential skills, training and background checks. This is alarming, as many levels of government continue to relinquish police obligations to private security due, in part, to the defund movement. Tragic consequences are already upon us.

Although the electorate and officials in the United States have recently pushed back against initiatives to cut police budgets – voters in November rejected supporters of the funding in the Buffalo and Seattle mayoral races and the plans. Police restructuring in Minneapolis – many jurisdictions have cut their law enforcement budgets, with little understanding of the consequences. Communities are beginning to pay the price of replacing the police with largely untrained private security guards.

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The poor training of security personnel who worked at Travis Scott’s concert in Houston in early November likely contributed to a mob surge that killed 10 people and injured hundreds more. A security guard informed the media that he had applied to work for the concert a few days before and that during a mass interview process he had never been asked about his qualifications. He had no security experience. “The training course seemed so rushed, it was free for everyone,” he told a local Houston TV station. He also told CNN that there were not enough police on site.

He decided to give up his post at the entrance before the concert, fearing that people without tickets would “storm” the gates and be injured. His concern was confirmed.

This rookie caretaker’s experience reflects an industry model of questionable hiring characterized by low wages, high turnover and pressure to sign new contracts and find enough guards to meet these demands.

Then there is the case of Kyle Rittenhouse. Showing up at a protest against police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he claimed to replace the lack of police presence, Rittenhouse killed two protesters and injured a third. While Rittenhouse has been acquitted of all charges in the shooting, it dramatizes what can happen when untrained private citizens take on police duties.

Even more worrying is the prospect of untrained officers grappling with an upsurge in violent crime. The FBI recently reported that the homicide rate in the United States had the largest increase in recorded history from 2019 to 2020, a staggering 30% increase. These figures increased again – by an additional 24% – in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020 in the 24 cities studied by the Council on Criminal Justice.

California is one of the few jurisdictions to receive the message. The state recently passed a law requiring the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services to create a standard of use of force for private security. When the provisions come into force in 2023, security guards will need to undergo additional training to obtain a license. Tragically, the state only acted after San Diego streetcar security guards, who were attempting to restrain a man who had strayed onto a platform at the Santa Fe depot, ended up killing him.

But many states have no requirements at all. Regulations are minimal or nonexistent in places like Idaho, Kentucky, and Wyoming. Often it’s just a pulse and a history check, and sometimes just a pulse.

Some security providers require valuable training. But for many others, it’s a race to the bottom. Organizations such as the International Foundation for Protection Officers and ASIS International are doing their part to professionalize the industry through education, training and research, but they have no legal authority.

We are at a tipping point. We are proposing the creation of a federal commission to review the industry and make recommendations on how security guards are recruited, vetted, trained and deployed. The nation must understand what we are asking private citizens with newly issued badges and (in some cases, guns) to do – protect our railways and bridges, identify local terrorists, defuse tensions during protests. and school board meetings, handle unruly crowds and deal down those with mental disorders.

Security guards would like to be up to the task. They need support, training and resources.

The United States must professionalize private security, drawing on best practices and thought leadership. The first step is for a commission appointed by the executive or legislature to compile the data and the context and, ultimately, to make recommendations. If Congress or the Biden administration fail to act, the responsibility rests with each state. The issue is too critical to be left to market forces.


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