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Professionalising private security: mandatory training in New Zealand’s ‘manned’ security sector

NZ Security, April 2017

Trevor Bradley: Those issued with Licenses/CoAs before October 2013 were, in effect, given a five year ‘free pass’.Trevor Bradley: Those issued with Licenses/CoAs before October 2013 were, in effect, given a five year ‘free pass’.

 

Dr Trevor Bradley of Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute of Criminology breaks PSPLA data on security licensing down, arguing that it will be some time before we see any clear evidence that mandatory training has led to a more professionalised industry. 

 

When enacted in April 2011, the Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Act (2010) finally ‘modernised’ an obsolete regulatory framework first introduced over three and a half decades earlier. Having broadened the scope of regulation and raised, albeit modestly, the barriers to entry, the Act helped narrow the wide gap that continues to separate New Zealand’s regulatory regime from more comprehensive models overseas.

According to the then Associate Minister for Justice Nathan Guy, the Act aimed to achieve ‘high industry standards’, reduce ‘the significant risk of harm’ and, in turn, ‘enhance’ the industry’s reputation. The NZSA offered a more measured endorsement when it described the new legislation as “an important step in raising professionalism and driving out poor quality operations.”

In pursuit of its objectives the act introduced a raft of changes. Regulation was expanded to include previously unregulated sectors, and the duration of licenses and certi cates of approval (CoAs) was extended from one to five years.

A new licensing authority, the Private Security Licensing Authority (PSPLA), and ‘dedicated’ enforcement agency, the Complaints, Investigation and Prosecution Unit (CIPU), were also established, although the latter was soon absorbed into the Department of Internal Affairs’ Regulatory Services Team. Disqualifying offences were updated and penalties for unlicensed operators were signi cantly increased.

Arguably the most significant change, however, and one deemed most likely to positively impact on industry ‘professionalism’, was the imposition of mandatory training. Introduced in October 2013 – over two years after the Act came into effect – mandatory training targets those ‘public facing’ personnel thought most likely to be involved in physical confrontations and who thus present the greatest risk of both inflicting and sustaining physical injury.

Making the announcement in October 2013, Associate Minister of Justice Chester Burrows claimed that compulsory training would “ensure that security personnel have the skills... to work safely and effectively”, and that it would give the public confidence that “the people employed to protect them would henceforth be suitably qualified.”

 

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More than any other feature of the Act, mandatory training was seen as key to improved industry standards and reduced consumer and practitioner risk.

Over three years have now passed since the mandatory training regime was rolled out. With the first tranche of individual license and CoA renewals now complete, consideration of whether – or the extent to which – property and personal guards and crowd controllers have in fact become ‘suitably qualified’ is particularly timely.

Through an analysis of 2016 licensing and training data supplied by the PSPLA, this article provides a tentative empirical answer to this question.

There is, of course, a pressing need to evaluate the impact of mandatory training ‘on the ground’ and whether it has led to actual improvements in practice. The focus of this brief article is, however, necessarily more limited and confined to an examination of compliance rates among those classes of activity legally obliged to complete training.

Notwithstanding the important debate regarding the adequacy of the training regime itself, analysis of the PSPLA data lays bare the proportion of those that have and have not acquired the skills to work – in theory at least – ‘safely and effectively’.

The article first presents an overview of all ‘active’ licenses and CoAs broken down into their eight different classes, and the proportion of the total that each class represents. Presenting the overall distribution of licenses/CoAs is itself illuminating but also serves a broader purpose. It shows that, in combination, those compelled to complete training make up the majority of all currently ‘active’ licenses and CoAs, and thus highlights the potential contribution that training can make to raised industry standards overall. 

 

 

Attention is then more specifically focused on those that are obliged to complete training: crowd controllers and personal and property guards. It presents the number currently certified to operate within just one of these classes broken down by the number that have and have not completed training.

This is followed by an analysis of those that hold two and then all three of the specified classes, and the number that have and have not completed training. This comparison reveals that those in possession of just one class of CoA are far less likely to have completed training than those in possession of two or more.

More importantly, regardless of whether one considers single or multi class operators, the data confirm that overall participation in training since October 2013 has been poor.

As of December 2016, 24,294 individuals were holders of an ‘active’ individual license or CoA and approved to operate in at least one of the eight classes of activity. This is a significant reduction on the number licensed/certified to operate some fteen months earlier (32,809).

This difference is largely explained by a combination of ‘expired’, ‘surrendered’ and ‘cancelled’ licenses/CoAs, and the onset of the renewals process from April 2016, when the Licensing Authority began rejecting non-compliant applicants.

Because an individual can be licensed or certified in more than one class of activity, the actual number of licenses and CoAs in circulation is many times higher than the number of individuals in possession of them. As shown in Table 1 – and excluding company licenses – 63,433 ‘active’ individual licenses and CoAs were on issue as of December 2016 distributed among 24,294 individual holders.

Although defined by the PSPLA as ‘active’, it is important to note that neither of these figures can be used as a reliable measure of the number of people currently working in the industry.

Under the previous legislation, licenses/CoAs were issued for 12 months, and one could estimate the number actively involved in the industry by comparing licenses/CoAs issued from one year to the next. However, since April 2011 licences/CoAs have been issued for a five year period. As such we can only guestimate what proportion of the current 24,294 license/CoA holders are still actively engaged and what proportion may have ‘dropped out’.

Similarly, in combination there are 63,433 ‘active’ license/certificates in circulation across the eight classes. But because many license holders are approved to operate across multiple classes of activity, it is not possible to identify how many of these ‘classes’ are actually utilised in practice. 

 

 

For example, at the time of writing, 1,224 individuals were licensed/certi ed to operate in seven out of all eight available classes. How many of these individuals actually operate and deliver services within each of these seven classes?

Table 1 presents the pattern of distribution of all current license/CoAs broken down into their respective classes. Representing 25 percent of the total, property guards make up the largest class by volume, closely followed by crowd controllers (24 percent) and then personal guards (20 percent).

It is important to note that relatively few individuals (156) hold only a personal guard CoA. Typically, personal guard CoAs are combined with other classes and, as is shown below, very often include both crowd controller and property guard CoAs (6,392).

In combination, these three clearly dominate in terms of their share of the total number of licenses/CoAs in circulation. By way of volume, for example, property guards are almost three times the size of the fourth largest class, security consultants (9%), and over three times the size of the fifth (security technician, 8%) and sixth (document destruction agent, 8%).

Clearly, the greater expertise of – and higher barriers to entry required for – security consultants, security technicians and private investigators goes some way in explaining their lower numbers. Conversely, the higher numbers of property guard (16,334), crowd controller (15,636) and personal guard CoAs (12,814) in circulation is – in part – a reflection of the low barriers to entry combined with a comparatively greater demand for guarding/crowd control type services.

  

‘Suitably qualified’? Guards and compliance with training 

Property guards, crowd controllers and personal guards are the classes of activity legally obliged to complete mandatory training. In combination, they make up almost 70 percent of all currently ‘active’ licenses/CoAs.

Given its ‘reach’, and leaving aside questions surrounding the training regime itself, one can begin to appreciate the potential impact of high quality, well-designed and well-delivered training. However, to make any meaningful difference in practice, a critical mass of trained personnel is first required.

Given the length of time the training regime has been in place, one might have assumed this had already been achieved. Furthermore, at the point of its introduction (October 2013), existing license/CoA holders were given one year to meet requirements; a generous allocation to complete a course lasting just 18-24 hours and consisting of largely ‘generic’ material lacking differentiation between the often divergent roles involved in each of the three classes. 

 

 

Despite this, and notwithstanding more recent improvements facilitated by the onset of the renewals process, compliance rates between October 2013 and December 2016 across all three classes have been disappointing for an industry actively seeking higher levels of professionalism.

What follows (Tables 2-4) is a detailed breakdown of training completion rates among CoA holders in the three specified classes. Those certified to operate in only one of these classes are considered first (Tables 2-4) followed by those certified to operate in two (Table 5) and then all three (Table 6).

As shown in Tables 2, 3 and 4, while completion rates among those approved to operate in just one of the three classes are low overall, there is significant variation between them.

With almost 59 percent having completed the training, property guards are the most compliant among those certified to operate in just one class. A slightly smaller proportion (52 percent) of those approved to operate only as personal guards are compliant, though it is important to note the small numbers involved. Of the three, then, crowd controllers have the worst compliance rate and just over 38 percent have completed mandatory training.

It is for industry insiders to accurately interpret this pattern, but it may to some extent reflect a higher number of casual employees in this sector, some of whom may be disinclined to pay for training to facilitate occasional work. Similarly, others may never have intended to complete training but are or were happy instead to allow their CoAs to ‘expire’ when they became due for renewal.

It is interesting to note that the PSPLA data show that moving from a single to a multiple class CoA is associated with higher rates of compliance. As shown in Table 5, Of the 1,851 individuals approved to operate as crowd controllers and property guards – the most popular two class combination – just over 36 percent have not completed training. This compares to an average of 50 percent of those approved to operate in a single class.

Those approved to operate in all three classes present even higher rates of compliance. Thus, of the 6,367 individuals issued with CoAs in all three classes, 78 percent have completed the training. While this figure offers some encouragement, it is nonetheless important to note that roughly one in five (or 21 percent) have still not been trained.

 

The PSPLA Response

The situation has not gone unnoticed. In November 2015, over a year after the training completion deadline had elapsed, the Licensing Authority expressed concern about the ‘high number of yellow card holders still in the system’ and an apparent ‘lack of commitment to comply’.

In response, and to avoid ‘gutting’ the industry, the Licensing Authority decided not to cancel or withdraw non-compliant CoAs at that time. Private Security Personnel Licensing Authority Roger Gill instead put the industry on notice that at the point each CoA became due for renewal the PSPLA would refuse to renew non-compliant applications.

From April 2016 the PSPLA began this process of rejection, and across all three classes just 75 percent of the CoAs that were rst issued during 2011 were approved for renewal.

Removing thousands of personnel from the industry all at the same time would indeed have had a seriously negative effect. However, due to the staggered nature of the renewal process – licenses/CoAs are renewed on the five year anniversary of the original date of issue - it means having to wait another two years before we can be confident that all certified property and personal guards and crowd controllers have been trained to at least the basic standard imposed by the current regime.

While time is beginning to run out for those issued with CoAs throughout 2012, some of those certified during 2013 still have the best part of two years to complete. For example, of the 638 individuals with only a property guard CoA that have not completed training, 630 were issued in 2012 (387) or 2013 (243).

Crowd controllers present a similar pattern. Of the 829 individuals with only a crowd control CoA that have not completed training, 826 were issued in 2012 (571) or 2013 (255). Among those approved to operate in all three classes, and only those three classes, the data show that of the 1,339 individuals that are yet to complete training 831 had COAs issued in 2012 and a further 484 in 2013.

Three and half years after mandatory training was introduced, almost 1,500 individuals approved to operate only as property guards or crowd controllers, along with 1,315 of those approved to operate in all three classes, are yet to complete training. Thus, it will be 2018 – five years after training was introduced and seven years after the governing legislation was enacted – before all 2,771 have complied by completing, at most, just a few days of training.

The renewal process provided the PSPLA with a convenient, if compromised, mechanism to force compliance. While many clearly benefitted, waiting five years before applying the ultimate sanction has significantly delayed any potential improvements in industry practice and, in turn, reputation.

Those issued with Licenses/CoAs before October 2013 were, in effect, given a five year ‘free pass’. While the PSPLA’s decision is an understandable one made in difficult circumstances it contradicts the Government’s claimed determination to ‘clean up’ the industry. It also represents a missed opportunity.

Had the PSPLA followed the example of other jurisdictions, and the Republic of Ireland offers a useful example, and exercised its authority immediately after the October 2014 deadline had elapsed,
a critical mass of trained property and personal guards and crowd controllers could have been achieved some years ago.

The time since could then have been used more productively to assess what, if any, practical impact has been achieved by the current training regime and what aspects or components are in need of revision and improvement. Instead, we now have to wait a while longer before being able to make any such assessment and think about where to from here. 

 

Dr Trevor Bradley is a senior lecturer at Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute of Criminology. He is undertaking ground breaking research into consumer motivations in the residential security market, and invites companies in this market to participate. Contact trevor. bradley@vuw.ac.nz

 

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