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Security firms lack standards

SOAPBOX • In an increasingly perilous world, we need to make sure that those hired to provide protection are capable of doing so

Based on over 18 years in the security industry, I know that mistakes can lead to people losing their lives in emergency situations. The first mistake was highlighted by the recent Chicago nightclub stampede, which was caused by the so-called security unleashing a torrent of mace.

Oregonians might think that sort of thing couldn't happen here. However, in this state, nightclub security often means one state-certified supervisor overseeing as many as 10 employees who aren't regulated. Unlike contract security officers, they are not required to undergo background checks or show proof of emergency training if they're not expected to detain rowdies or carry out other enforcement.

I feel that if you are hired to provide security, you should be held to the same standards as contract officers.

Another issue is lag time in the background-check process. A person can work for months, and sometimes years, under a 120-day temporary permit. I personally know of several examples where this happened at the sites where I worked. I feel the ideal system is one where the background checks are done before actually working.

We live in a dangerous world now; it is only reasonable that we know exactly who is providing our security. A system that allows people to work for several months until they eventually undergo a background check isn't good enough for a post 9-11 world.

Finally, there's aÊloophole in the safety regulation system that needs to be dealt with. Under Oregon Occupational Safety & Health Administration law, there is no legal requirement for security officers to have effective communication tools. It is left up to a private security company to make that judgment.

The basis of private, unarmed security is something called OAR, which stands for observe and report. It's true that unarmed officers are not expected to act as police officers and are not expected to intervene in criminal attacks. However, we are expected to call 911 for any crime we see.

Unfortunately, the ability to report a crime is left to the discretion of the private security companies. There is no legal requirement to give an officer either a cell phone or a functioning radio. What that means is if you are a crime victim, and a private security officer sees it, he or she may not be able to call 911.

In my own case, I worked a nine-story downtown parking garage for nearly three years without a reliable radio. In fact, for a six-week period I had no radio at all. There is nothing illegal about this under Oregon OSHA regulations. The company position is the client wouldn't pay for a cell phone and they weren't going to spend the money needed to get me a good radio.

I think reasonable people would be shocked to know that a private security officer would be unable to call 911 in an emergency. I mean, what's the point of having an officer if he or she can't call for help? Yet that's exactly the situation in Oregon.

Personally, I find it disturbing that when the country is under an orange alert, private security companies are allowed to get away with this. It is simply a matter of common sense. It's said that war is too important to be left to generals; likewise, security is too important to be left to cheap, private security companies.

It's obvious to me that these loopholes can be closed by the Legislature in Salem. We need additions to the current regulations. New regulations would eliminate the nightclub security exemption, and require private security companies to provide a telephone, cell phone or functioning radio to employees at every site they work. Enforcement would be given to OSHA to verify that the radios actually work. TheÊexpanded background checks would continue to be done by Oregon's Department of Public Safety Standards & Training. Now is the time, before disaster strikes.

Doug McIntosh of Southwest Portland has lived here since 1980. He's seeking an agent for his great American novels.