This Act will strengthen homeland security and bolster private security industry standards, says Ira Lipman.
When President George W. Bush signed the National Intelligence Reform Act into law in late 2004, many news reports overlooked a small but critical element of the new bill – the Private Security Officer Employment Authorization Act.

This measure can significantly improve homeland security by providing a procedure to better screen private security personnel, using a check with the FBI’s national criminal history database to identify any disqualifying arrests or convictions. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the private security industry holds responsibility for protecting up to 85 percent of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Ensuring that officers who perform these sensitive duties are not themselves terrorists or other potentially dangerous criminals is vital and will improve industry standards of professionalism.

Access to the FBI criminal database did not come easily. For more than 20 years, Guardsmark led efforts to incorporate this process into the background screening of security officers.

The Private Security Officer Employment Authorization Act is aimed at security companies as well as firms that employ internal security staff. These employers will be able to submit personnel information for comparison against the FBI’s criminal database. The FBI will send criminal history information on the individual in question to a state bureau, which reviews the criminal records to determine if any disqualifying arrests or convictions exist. The state bureau then discloses to the employer whether the individual has a criminal history that would make him or her unfit to serve in a security capacity; it does not release the entire record – simply the existence or absence of a relevant criminal history. This process reduces the likelihood that a person convicted of a felony in one state will receive a badge and firearm in another.

The new legislation does not interfere with state security regulations; instead, it establishes guidelines for states without regulations and enhances the process for states with existing regulations.

For example, the states that require a criminal record check for security employment typically do not go beyond examination of state records. The new law can expand those criminal record checks through the national database.

At the same time, the new law protects privacy rights by not revealing specific information regarding arrests or convictions, and stiff criminal penalties are included for misuse of the information. In addition, an applicant must consent to the record check, and the security employer must report the response it receives to the applicant. No taxpayer funds are needed for the program, which relies on user fees from security employers requesting information.

Raising the industry bar

Concerned by the lack of industry governance –with 10 states having no regulations or guidelines at all, Guardsmark initiated efforts to raise industry standards in the early 1970s, beginning with a reduction of armed guards. Inconsistencies among state regulations prompted our emphasis on federal legislation. For decades, we relentlessly lobbied for industry-wide regulation, urging action by organizations such as the National Association of Security Companies (NASCO) and ASIS International. We continually sought to educate the public about the need for higher standards in security through national print and broadcast media.

Immediately following the 9/11 attacks, we renewed efforts to obtain legislation that would grant security employers access to the FBI criminal database. Lack of time prevented the amendment from passing in 2001, and the measure was introduced the following spring by a bipartisan coalition.

The legislation received approval from the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Association of Attorneys General, the International Association of Security and Investigative Regulators (IASIR), ASIS International and NASCO. Still, the measure did not pass, and we lobbied to have the act reintroduced in 2003. The legislation became part of the House Intelligence Reform Bill in September 2004, and was incorporated in the Senate Intelligence Reform Bill days later.

While security companies are not required to use access to the FBI’s national criminal database, the stakes are far too great to ignore this valuable contribution to improved national security. Companies seeking security services should ask whether firms are using this important new tool to help reduce security threats.

Still, much work remains to improve the quality of the security industry. Inconsistent standards for screening and training contribute to a false sense of security, with people placing their trust in individuals who may not be able to perform in a crisis. Businesses and the public must demand higher standards from security providers and be willing to invest in effective solutions to protect people and property. At the same time, the security industry must elevate selection and training requirements to ensure that security professionals are prepared to meet the demands of their responsibilities.

We now await the announcement by Justice in regard to specific regulations for accessing information in the FBI’s national criminal database. To that end, members of the security industry met with Justice representatives in April to inform staff about the need for prompt action and the issues that must be addressed in the regulations.

This legislation represents a milestone in our efforts to raise industry standards and improve the nation’s safety; yet we must continue to initiate improvements. The threat of terrorism will not fade; neither can the security industry’s focus on the highest standards of performance. The time for urgency is now.

Sidebar: In a Nutshell

Weldon L. Kennedy, vice chairman of Guardsmark, knows about the challenges when it comes to law enforcement and the private sector. He possesses a wealth of experience. He retired from the FBI after a 33-year career as the Deputy Director, the second highest position in the organization. As Deputy Director, he interacted with government and law enforcement leaders nationally and internationally.

Kennedy points out that each of the 50 states have responsibility within their own state to control or regulate the private security industry. Ten states have no regulations. The remaining 40 have different kinds of regulations. Until now, only one checked FBI records – California. With the Private Security Officer Employment Authorization Act, he sees gains in public safety and national security while providing a strong level of privacy protection for security officers and officer candidates.

The employer does not see nor have access to the criminal record

The employer just gets notification that the person has a record that disqualifies him or her

The new process is voluntary