Hairdressers, fortune tellers, even kickboxing timekeepers have to be individually licensed by the state before they can ply their trades in Massachusetts. But not private security guards.
Massachusetts’ lack of licensing and training requirements for guards stands in sharp contrast to most of the rest of the country.
The vast majority of states require individual licensing and training of private armed and unarmed security guards, said Charles Nemeth, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who chairs its Security, Fire and Emergency Management Department and has studied private security for 40 years.
But in Massachusetts, while companies must be licensed by the state, individual guards are not, although armed guards are required to have a local firearms license. Massachusetts also does not require training, according to the State Police, and, unlike most other states, has no central regulatory authority to monitor complaints about guard behavior.
“Massachusetts is kind of an outlier —
As the number of guards has proliferated in recent years, most states have adopted more rigorous regulations, including checks of mental health background, up to 50 or 60 hours of training, or annual license renewal, he said. Even then, many advocates argue that more training and oversight are needed.
Massachusetts state law does bar felons or those convicted of “any offense involving moral turpitude” from working in private security and requires that companies retain employee affidavits attesting to a lack of felony convictions.
In Vermont, unarmed guards must complete 40 hours of training. In Alaska, unarmed guards must complete 40 hours and pass an eight-hour refresher course each year. In California, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services registers each guard and allows the public to easily file complaints against individual guards and companies. Armed guards in all three states must complete more training than unarmed guards.
In Florida, which has among the toughest licensing standards in the country, unarmed guards must prove they are mentally healthy, undergo a background check, and complete at least 40 hours of training in a certified program. Armed guards must complete another 28 hours. The state keeps guards’ names in a searchable database and regularly convenes an 11-member advisory council to review the requirements.
Bret Bartlett, a council member and former police officer who provides private security, was shocked by the lack of regulations in Massachusetts.
“I thought every state had those requirements,” he said. “Good gosh. That would be almost like putting a policeman out there without training.”
The limited oversight in Massachusetts has come under recent scrutiny from legislators amid accusations that private Allied Universal security guards abused the homeless inside North Station.
Last month, the Globe detailed a pattern of alleged assaults on homeless people by unarmed guards. In a Dec. 22 incident, a guard allegedly beat a disabled homeless man with his own cane. The guard was fired and arrested after the Globe made inquiries about the incident. Other guards told the Globe they received minimal training on dealing with the homeless.
“In light of what we’ve seen, they absolutely should be more regulated, and there should be more training,” said state Senator Sal DiDomenico, whose district includes TD Garden, the venue that contracted with Allied. “There’s a need for action here.”
‘Massachusetts is kind of an outlier — and a state like Massachusetts, they regulate everything!’Charles Nemeth, John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor
DiDomenico said he plans to explore legislation to strengthen state oversight of private security guards. He commended TD Garden for cutting ties with Allied last month.
The number of private security guards in the United States has risen dramatically in recent decades, specialists said, and nearly 1.1 million guards now work across the country, according to 2015 estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Massachusetts, there are 181 private security companies, according to State Police; the number of guards was not available.
Some institutions, such as hospitals and colleges, employ a different, highly trained and regulated, category of security guards called Special State Police Officers, sworn police officers with arrest powers. They must complete 20 weeks of State Police training and are overseen by the State Police, a spokesman said. Boston police also oversee special city officers. Most private businesses are not allowed to use special officers.
Some specialists say the lack of government oversight of private guards is not necessarily a huge concern. Private companies typically require more training than state regulations do to provide good customer service, satisfy insurers, and avoid mistakes, which often lead to litigation.
“While oversight and licensing and training vary, liability is still the common denominator,” said Don Aviv, chief operating officer at the global security firm Interfor International and vice chair of the security services council at ASIS International, which represents public and private security practitioners around the world. “The one thing that guard companies do fear is a lawsuit.”
But others say that leaving regulation to individual companies can lead to cutting corners in pursuit of profits.
“Contractors are going into this as vendors and they’re bidding against other contractors, so what happens is that they have to be low bidders,” said Sandie Davies, executive director of the International Foundation for Protection Officers, a Florida-based organization that specializes in training and certification for security guards. “So where do they cut first? Training.”
Without state regulation, private security companies can also face little public accountability. For firms that work in and around busy public areas, such as North Station, that can be dangerous, said Lisa Thurau, an advocate who has studied law enforcement policies in Massachusetts.
“We have no assurances of what would happen in a situation with a security guard,” said Thurau. “As we increasingly move toward privatization of public obligations, the question of how to properly regulate these people who fit in both worlds keeps looming.”
At North Station, homeless people had complained since at least June 2016 about rough treatment by Allied guards. Three filed police reports alleging abuse before the Dec. 22 incident, which was caught on video.
Several former guards who spoke to the Globe said they had complained to supervisors or human resources staff about violence by guards, or poor working conditions, in 2014 and 2016.
But unlike other states, Massachusetts has no central regulatory body that is responsible for compiling complaints about security guard behavior, so police reports and complaints to supervisors were never collected in a single place. After the Dec. 22 incident, TD Garden, Allied, and city officials said they had not been aware of a pattern of violence.
“That’s why it’s important to have some type of regulatory board,” Nemeth said. “If you don’t have a structure for how to adjudicate or remediate bad behavior, it’s going to flourish.”
Asked about the allegations, Allied Universal spokeswoman Angela Burrell said the company does not comment on pending or settled litigation, and pointed out that the company has a history of providing “safe and secure environments for our clients and their patrons,” including TD Garden and North Station.
“We have taken swift and decisive action regarding the recent isolated incident at this facility and denounce the unacceptable behavior of the individual involved,” wrote Burrell in an e-mail, in apparent reference to the alleged Dec. 22 assault.
Burrell did not provide specifics on the company’s training requirements, but said it considers itself a leader in providing “high-quality training that covers many scenarios and situations, including conflict resolution and sensitivity.”
She also said the company conducts background checks and has supported increased regulation for security companies.
In light of the allegations against Allied, state Representative Harold P. Naughton Jr., who chaired the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee in the 2015 to 2016 legislative session, said he is consulting with law enforcement and security officials to determine whether hearings on guard regulations should be held.
“If we’re putting people in positions of authority like that, we should be aware of what their qualities and capabilities and temperament are,” he said, “in the same way we are for a police officer, or a firefighter, or an EMT.”