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Booming market for security guards

More people are becoming private security guards in Nova Scotia, seeing it as a way to start a career in law enforcement

By Zak Markan <zmarkan@dal.ca>

Posted: Feb. 4, 2008

A soon-to-be security guard faces the firing squad of training. Photo: courtesy of Lawrence Conrad, Independent Security Services Atlantic

A soon-to-be security guard faces the firing squad of training. Photo: courtesy of Lawrence Conrad, Independent Security Services Atlantic

Brendan MacDonald is itching to become a cop.

“That’s the goal,” he says. “I only plan on doing this another six months.”

MacDonald, 20, looks like a cop when he walks the streets of downtown Halifax: navy blue uniform, red strips on the side of his pants. But he’s not a cop yet – he’s a private security guard who collects change from parking meters. Instead of wielding a gun, MacDonald carries an aluminum safe that jingles with coins as he walks.

He works for Independent Security Services Atlantic, a private security company based in Halifax. MacDonald likes the work he’s doing for the company because it’s preparing him for a career in law enforcement.

“It’s a stepping stone,” he says. “I plan on applying to the police force pretty soon…And most other guards I know do it for the same reason.”

More and more people in Nova Scotia are becoming security guards and following MacDonald’s lead. According to the Department of Justice, the number of licences for private investigators, private guards and armed guards in Nova Scotia has gone up 45 per cent since 2002.

“There are about 1,200 more licenses now than there were five years ago,” says Cindy Deonarine, Security Program Officer at the Dept. of Justice.

A growth industry

Security guards practicing first aid. Photo: courtesy of Lawrence Conrad, ISS

Security guards practicing first aid. Photo: courtesy of Lawrence Conrad, ISS

Some security companies say there hasn’t been a sharp increase in the number of security guards and private investigators in the province.

There’s a 33 per cent turnover rate for security guards who leave one company and then get work with another, says Eric Mott, owner of Lower Sackville-based Sagittarius Security. He adds that security guards can have multiple licenses with multiple companies – therefore, the 45 per cent increase doesn’t mean there are more people in the industry.

Lawrence Conrad, owner of Halifax-based Independent Security Services Atlantic, disagrees. He says working for two companies is too much for most guards to handle because training programs and rules differ widely from company to company. 

“This is definitely a growth industry,” says Conrad, who’s seen ISS increase its size 25 per cent annually for five straight years. ISS and its sister armoured-delivery company employ 100 people full-time and provide security to medium and large retail stores, the Halifax Port Authority and the Spring Garden Area Business Association. 

More and more businesses and large organizations are turning to private security because public forces such as the Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP are short on manpower and lack resources to patrol certain areas, Conrad says. 

“Besides, to have a policemen stand in front of your door costs 60 to 70 bucks per hour, which is outlandish,” he adds. “It’s the ultimate security because they have the power to arrest, but businesses can’t afford it. They’re looking for a compromise that costs a little less but still protects their store.”

Problems with training

Scores of new security guards line up for role call. Photo: courtesy Lawrence Conrad, ISS

Scores of new security guards line up for role call. Photo: courtesy Lawrence Conrad, ISS

An increase in organized crime over the last 15 years, along with police manpower shortages, have forced medium and large-size retailers to use private security, says Derek Neighbor, a senior vice-president with the Retail Council of Canada.

“We’re not just seeing some young teenager stealing a chocolate bar,” Neighbor says.

He adds that retail stores across Nova Scotia – not just in the Halifax Regional Municipality – have problems with theft, to the point where larger chains of stores have their own loss-prevention departments.

Hiring more security officers is a step in the right direction, according to Wendy Russell, a former private investigator who conducts anti-theft consulting in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. But she adds that medium and large-sized businesses and organizations would be better off teaching their staff good loss-prevention strategies, such as changing store layouts, instead of hiring guard.

“It’s probably the cheapest way of making themselves feel better that they’re doing something,” she says. “You really have to look at the qualifications of these people… because they don’t get paid very much, so you have to wonder how serious they take their jobs and how dedicated they are.”

Conrad agrees, and says the way to ensure all guards are well trained and are paid more than the average $8 to 10 per hour rate is for the province to pass legislation requiring minimum training standards for security guards.

He says his company has taken the lead by advocating for minimum standards and teaching its guards many of the same courses Halifax police teaches cadets. 

“Until you have legislation that forces these companies to train their people, you will have companies that simply have bodies with a heart in a uniform.”