The State of the Private Security Sector in Ontario

In 2017; the Ontario Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne introduced the Making Ontario Safer Act, a major modernization and recalibration of the current Police Services Act. Since the introduction of the Police Service Act, a peace officers role has been expanded significantly to adapt to changes and advances in technology, the deterioration of social safety nets in society and changing perceptions of their roles by the public. These changes have taken officers away from the traditional concept of policing such as crime mitigation and community-oriented policing and forced officers to become social workers, addictions experts and more. These changes have created a much larger demand for the services of peace officers. Several components of the Making Ontario Safer Act have created opportunities, confusion and excitement. Some of these changes include allowing special constables, private security officers and companies additional powers and roles; focusing non-criminal calls back into their respective jurisdictions (i.e. noise complaints to bylaw officers) and focusing the scope of what peace officers do. In my opinion there is both opportunity and also concern with the move to bring in the private security industry into roles traditionally filled by peace officers. My concern is that the industry collectively is very fragmented and given the state the security industry is currently in would create new issues and concerns.

To become a licensed security guard in Ontario there are a couple steps required before your allowed to apply to companies. You are required to take a 40-hour course that touches on items like the Trespass to Property Act, potential duties and responsibilities as a security guard, but the training is minimal and varies significantly. Most of the content is straight forward, easy to understand and comprehend often the 40-hour time criteria is as simple as running out the clock or stretching the material to meet that requirement. Online courses are offered by many companies that simply provide the textbook in an electronic format. They often provide no additional insight such as examples or experiences of officers from their own companies. This course whether done online or in person often costs around $500 which is no insignificant investment especially given the average wages associated with the industry. Testing is conducted by a private company on behalf of the Ontario government; this testing costs about $80 and has numerous questions not covered by the material in the course. I found and was found by others who had taken the course is that there seems to be a disconnect between the material offered in training to the material on the test. After a successful completion your required to pay for the license which you will have to renew every two years. With the course, testing and then the cost of the licensing you are looking at approximately $700 investment upfront. I think this investment upfront does cause challenges for individuals who may not have access to free capital and the return on investment is minimal within the industry.

Companies and their practices vary wildly from one to another when it comes to hiring practices. Some companies will hire you on the spot without references checks; others will require a little more investment, but it is incredibly hard to not be hired by security companies. This is an important piece to mention because if we are to look at using private security to fill roles previously done by police officers then hiring practices need to become more stringent. There needs to be a standard that companies must meet to hire someone as a security guard. While someone sitting watching a parking lot may not need top level clearance; guards will and do watch sensitive areas, people and items all of which due to lax hiring practices place these in a higher risk situation. Security companies have become so used to the constant rotation of staff that good hiring practices often take a back seat.  This is because they know they can find someone with a security license looking for extra work. This standard of hiring would likely force security companies to take better care of their employees. If it becomes more time consuming and challenging to replace bodies, then there is a need to hold onto people. Nowhere is this lax hiring more apparent than short term, large scale events such as music festivals or sports venues. Companies will simply hire anyone that applies because they need staff; it is not uncommon to provide a referral bonus to people who can bring licensed friends. This is done to meet the requirements of the event and put individuals into different positions throughout the venue’ often this cannot be done simply because they don’t have enough regular staff. These events are notorious for poor performance of guards because there is no attachment to the company. Illicit narcotic use, absent postings, unauthorized alcohol consumption are all commonplace because there is little oversight and responsibility to the company. These hiring practices need to be changed to protect the individuals who are attending an event, other guards and the companies themselves.

Operationally security companies are also in a battle over who can provide the cheapest service for the hiring organization. This has caused a depression of wages and other cost reductions by these companies. Things like training, uniforms, equipment, personal vehicle use for shelter amongst other things are often offloaded to the guard; personally, I have spent about $1,000+ over the years on these different items. Often in many areas it is only the increase in minimum wage which lifts the wages of guards. This profession that requires you to pay up front $700 minimum to get the required training which in many instances should give you a higher starting wage now has the same as someone with no previous training. Your first 50 hours of service to a security company ends up being free because that is the required timeframe to pay off the cost of your training, testing and initial licensing. There are barriers to this profession from drawing in viable candidate’s long term that can do the jobs that governments would want private security to do. Often the individuals who are available aren’t the highest quality candidates or may have questionable backgrounds. Most ‘good’ candidates leave security after a short period of time to move on to law enforcement or other roles because the wages are intentionally depressed, and the quality of coworkers is low. In order for these companies to truly be able to replace peace officers in different roles you need to have good employees with the proper training and experience, but you also need to have a ‘pipeline’. Much like professional sports you need to have good employees coming up to replace these people with additional training as right now security companies cannot do that. Their low wages keep individuals in a constant state of rotating in and out; it limits opportunity or personal growth or training and creates lethargic and cynicism in the individuals who stay in long term (Not the case in everyone, some people really enjoy their jobs no matter the pay).

There is currently no distinction or very limited distinction between sites with higher rates of injury or harm and pay scales. Most companies will not pay a higher rate or will pay only marginally higher for sites that have higher risk of injury or harm to the guard. Often this is again done to win contracts but leaves those sites in the hands of unqualified individuals. Individuals tend to fill these shifts to gain the experience necessary to move on to different career paths. Working in a mall dealing with addictions and mental health can be a good experience base for law enforcement. The guards at the Eaton Center in Toronto; may only make around $20 an hour yet they have dealt with murder, terror, weapons and more. They often as well only have limited tools to deal with the situations they face. Not to mention they give in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) which is incredibly expensive place to live and work. Companies are not properly scaling their wages to the potential risks and dangers because there is no business case to do so. There are no regulations which require them to provide an assessment on risk when initially assessing a site and each company is trying to undercut one another which leads to wage depression. A regulated sliding pay scale based on risk and requirements such as training, gear etc could provide the opportunity to maintain employees longer and keep the roles viable for them to stay in long term. An assessed low risk danger site could start at minimum wage or slightly above; a medium risk could be in the range of $18-$20 an hour and high risk could be $22-25 an hour. All these pay scales are well below the constable rate and special constable rate for paid duty which keeps the cost reduction incentive governments are looking for. They give the opportunity for individuals in the security industry to stay in this industry if they choose to. A full-time employee could make $600, $800 and $1,000 (gross) given the risk level. Employees working low danger sites annual income would be $28,800, medium income annual $38,400 and high income $48,000. While not the greatest take home pays it allows security guards the opportunity to learn at the lower scale and make their way up. It creates a business market that doesn’t hamper companies’ ability to successfully get contracts. The scale allows guards who work where more risk regularly occurs the opportunity to have a stable income and support themselves which currently isn’t an option without excessive hours today. This scale helps to create that ‘pipeline’ and growth we need to see if security is going to fill peace officer’s roles. It provides the opportunity for training, experience and personal growth while keeping the business market alive and to prosper.

Training or lack thereof is also another huge factor in how the security systems in Ontario fails to accurate or effectively maintain security. Security guards are left with little information pertaining to both sites, interactions with individuals and danger assessments. If there is training done on a site it is limited and it is done by someone who themselves ran into the same issues. Important training like CPR, use of force, mental health training is often done on the backs of employees’ own income and on days off. This training benefits the companies because it provides more valuable employees and reduces risk but currently they do not have to provide it or assist with the costs. Security companies can often get away with limited training because they work outside of the regular business hours of society. Out of sight and out of mind is a constant in that industry. It would be completely unacceptable to most people to have carpenters that have no training on how to use their tools working to build a hospital or a school. In our current system we have security guards that have never been trained on use of force, race relations, mental health or use of force options like a baton. Often these individuals are sent to learn in the field which creates dangers for the public and the integrity of our institutions. In order for the system to be effective we need to have people know what they are doing when they are asked to do it. It creates dangerous situations when we ask people to do things or conduct themselves in ways that they have not been trained. I imagine that if the government were to ask private security to take over roles such as alarm response from the police that there would be minimum requirements. With how short staffed the inspectors are for the security companies it would only be a short time before issues arose over untrained guards doing these roles and getting hurt or someone else getting hurt. A peace officer has the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) and others as oversight but private security currently has no such entity.

You could ask and say “what is the issue then? Things like lack of training, lack of oversight, poor hiring practices all happens in other industries as well?” The problem here is that we are asking peace officers who are extensively checked out for quality of applicant, then extensively trained on all the necessary items pertaining to their role and given constant opportunity for upgrades then handing the keys over to someone who walked in off the street. It’s kind of like handing over the keys to your 1960 Mustang to your kid who had a lesson once with Uncle Gerry in the farmers field. The only reason that security companies are being given that opportunity is because the government wants to look at finding efficiencies. In certain instances, I am okay with this transition and reduction of role for peace officers. Toronto Police Chief Mark Sanders made the comment “The role of policing has changed and it’s not a good use of resources to be sending two police officers to respond to alarms at a business. 96% of the times alarms are false yet you have now tied up two officers from other calls for what is likely to be nothing. We will still respond to two-tiered alarm calls and when there is probable belief of an active intrusion, but this role would be best handled by a security guard” (paraphrase). Given the powers provided to security guards in Ontario while limited they can be an effective tool for some types of calls; special constables/provincial offenses officers are also viable and important tools that are underutilized. I think the unknown is a major concern for the officers and the police unions as to what the roles will be when determined by the police service boards and municipalities (or regions).

In saying this the government needs to adapt and change the current model of private security in Ontario. For private security to work as a replacement for some of the roles currently filled by police officers; the government and security companies need to invest in their staff. Regulations will be an important part of leveling the playing field and reorganizing the industry which is extremely fragmented. My recommendations on changing the model of private security: 1) Allow individuals to apply to security companies and have their security license training paid for by the company. This training should be expanded beyond the 40 hours to include additional topics such as mental health, race relations and further substance on the legalities surrounding the position. An investment of time to pay back the cost associated with licensing and testing can be an agreed upon substitute for the current model much like police forces do. 2) A standard hiring practice needs to be established so companies take their time in hiring individuals who may potentially be involved in criminal activity, terrorism or other harmful issues. This standardized hiring would make it harder for companies to treat staff like cattle and easily replaceable. 3) The Ontario government needs to create a tiered system of risk assessment for the different sites that guards would posted to. Measured by incidents occurred, arrests or potential for injury this would create a buffer between basic sites and sites that require additional training. A high, medium and low spectrum would have additional training requirements, a sliding pay scale based on the risk factor and retention. This provides individuals working in this industry the opportunity to learn new skills and earn a higher wage that ca not be depressed.

This is the type of pool of individuals that you want to have for the type of roles you want security officers to take over from peace officers. Individuals that have experience, have proper training, pride in their work and creates a system of professionalism that raises the standard in the industry. It also creates a system where individuals can work in the profession and work with effectively trained coworkers, at a pay scale high enough to support themselves. People may not consider leaving the field due to poor pay, limited training opportunities and ineffective coworkers. It also creates a system where the companies can operate and continue to prosper with a stronger, better educated workforce. Lower rates of turnover, lower liability risks and several other positive dimensions that would improve conditions for everyone. The government wants security officers to take over the roles of peace officers and in some instances, it is a good idea. For it to work effectively and to truly be a good replacement the government needs to adapt the current system to make sure the right people are in the right place. The individuals you want to be the replacement need to be effectively trained, supported and qualified. These individuals do not need the authority of a peace officer or other skill sets like firearms, but effective training is necessary. The security industry currently is a broken system of ineffective companies, training, hiring and practices. As it stands right now you will see a significant issue with the introduction of security guards into these roles unless the government tightens up the industry and makes proper changes that companies will not make themselves. There is a potential for a beneficial makeup for all parties in this instance but like the upgrade and changes to the Police Services Act; the act regulating security guards needs a boost and changed.

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