With a focus on customer service skills, martial arts, and de-escalation techniques, security companies are evolving to meet the needs of cannabis dispensaries and downtown businesses.
When Lemonade – a cannabis dispensary in Tigard – was broken into, police took four hours to respond. Fearing the perpetrators would return, the owners called Zachary Thom, co-owner of Parabellum Protections Security Company in Portland. He was there in 20 minutes, and the traders weren’t even among his customers.
At the end of the night, they were.
Data from the Portland Police Department shows the city is experiencing a similar increase in crime to metropolitan areas across the country. Civil unrest in downtown Portland last summer and the heightened police presence that followed resulted in a slower response to the burglaries. In response, companies – especially cannabis dispensaries – are turning to private security companies for protection. But hiring security personnel can be expensive, and many clinic and bar owners fear that intimidation by security guards could be bad for business.
As a result, security companies are adapting.
By training security guards as budtenders, hosts, and barbacks, security companies make private security less intimidating and more profitable.
Tobias Baker and Dylan Volpe, security guards at Parabellum Protections. Credit: Parabellum Protections.
The new generation of security companies are also projecting a less militarized approach, training guards in hand-to-hand combat and de-escalation techniques and wearing designer clothing and street wear to project a fun and more friendly image.
Cannabis products are high value and easy to sell illegally, making them particularly vulnerable to theft – and due to federal banking policies, they still deal in cash. Obtaining commercial insurance is also difficult for dispensaries, as domestic insurers will not cover cannabis companies without charging a higher premium.
This means that crimes are more frequent and more damaging, even fatal.
“Demand is very high on the dispensary side, but the cannabis industry has been crippled from all angles. Criminals are much more brazen than before, ”says Thomas Baker, co-owner of Parabellum Protections with Thom. “The incidents in the city center have caused a lot of rifts between the police and the population. We don’t wear any badges and we don’t dress too militantly. There is a fine line that you have to walk through.
The scale of the crime problem in the Oregon cannabis industry was focused on December 14, 2020, when a gang of thieves shot dead 44-year-old father Michael Arthur at Portland’s Cured Green dispensary. Thefts from dispensaries doubled in 2020, according to Jesse Bontecou, co-director of the Oregon Retailers of Cannabis Association.
A cannabis store owner, who chose to remain anonymous, said she did not trust the ability of the police to protect her and her employees. “Police don’t take burglaries and thefts from clinics as seriously as they do other businesses,” she said.
At just one year old, Parabellum Protections already has contracts with several dispensaries in Oregon, including Cookies. Company personnel all have extensive martial arts experience and do not need firearms to subdue a potential threat. Some of the team have experience as budtenders which means they are able to work and serve clients when they are not neutralizing threats. This helps to increase the bottom line of the business, by offsetting the salary of a security guard, which is prohibitive for many cannabis operations.
Like Air Marshals, staying undercover helps security guards slip under the radar of potential criminals, meaning a thief could very well shoot his gun at exactly the wrong person. It also means that security personnel must maintain pleasant demeanor when interacting with customers.
“It’s not about bullying or fear, it’s about togetherness. You have to have customer service skills to be in this industry now, ”Baker said. “We don’t think a security guard should just be a hot body.”
Like Parabellum, Skynet Security employees in Portland have martial arts background and include many professional fighters and jiu-jitsu practitioners. They are trained as restaurant and bar workers before receiving conventional safety training.
But violence should be avoided at all costs: Skynet employees wear body cameras and are not allowed to get their hands on anyone unless the other party turns violent.
“It used to be a security guard punching someone and throwing them out, but those days are gone. Everyone’s buttons now, ”says Raymond Hill, owner of Skynet Security in Portland. “A lot of people saw the police and security forces being mistreated. ”
Hill’s Company serves bars and restaurants in Portland’s Pearl District, including the Two Wrongs Bar and the River Pig Saloon. For Hill, incident prevention is the primary focus of his business.
“If a group of guys are loud, sometimes we send someone with a phone camera to start recording them. This usually causes them to leave quickly.
More infiltration security could create an industry-wide effect. Criminals looking for a score will be unable to determine which businesses are secure and which are not. As the summer crime spike continues, more companies may decide private security is worth the investment. An investment that is now more affordable when a security guard can do an employee’s job.
“Private security seems a much more reasonable expense when your security guard can actually help you improve your bottom line,” says Hill.
To subscribe to Oregon Affairs, Click here.