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Five things your security service providers don’t want you to know

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Article published in Hi-tech Security Solutions Magazine. Source:

South Africa has one of the largest private security industries in the world, yet there is still an inadequate capacity to effectively combat crime in the country. According to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) Annual Report, 2010/11, there were 8828 private security businesses registered as security service providers (which is an 18.35% increase compared to the number of companies registered for the previous financial year).

It is estimated that of the almost 1.7 million guards registered, only 400 000 are active within the industry. The figures have prompted a review of the regulation of the industry by the Minister of Police to address certain risks and threats identified. But what risks are there for the user of private security services.


Criminal infiltration

One indication of the extent of criminal infiltration of the industry can be seen in the results of a voluntary vetting process initiated by some private security business in 2008 where 170 728 guards were vetted through the SAPS Criminal Records Centre, 14 729 were flagged as being linked to possible criminal activities. All these guards allegedly had valid registration certificates as required under the Private Security Industry Regulatory Act, 2001.

Recently, PSIRA’s deputy director for law enforcement, Philani Mthethwa told parliament’s police committee that criminal cases against private security firms where mounting. The number of pending criminal investigations against security companies had risen from 1301 in 2012/2013 to 1740 in 2013/2014. However, not all companies and private security guards register with PSIRA as required by law. Many companies and security guards operate under the radar and unlawfully.

In 2014, a Cape Town-based security company reported that over a two-month period 27 security guards attempted to gain employment with them using falsified documents. The problems are not just related to fraud with ‘Sybrand’ Louis van Schoor, a private security guard and former policeman, being convicted of 22 counts of murder in 1990. More recently four security guards were arrested in Cape Town on charges of burglary and kidnapping and reports of this nature are becoming a weekly event.



The South African model for quality control falls on the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA). The primary objective of the authority is to regulate the private security industry and to exercise effective control over the practice of the occupation, not quality. Organisations that promote minimum standards in security like the South African Intruder Detection Services Association (SAIDSA) are still voluntary with no obligation by companies to comply with minimum standards.

According to Natalie Jaynes report on the industry (Flying Below the Radar), PSIRA’s budget is comparable to that of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID), but actual spending on oversight of the private security sector is limited to a mere 16 inspectors that are employed nationally. There is also a general lack of public knowledge about the legal framework within which private security companies function, in particular the powers of arrest, stop and search, use of force and general legal standing.

According to Jaynes, the use of firearms by security companies also remains an area of concern. Currently, neither PSIRA nor the South African Police Services keep record of cases of death and injury perpetrated with firearms from private security companies specifically. The South African situation remains one of client immunity, whereas emerging good practices internationally are moving towards client-level responsibility. Amendments to the act might change this in the near future.


Cost cutting

The large number of service providers means it is easy to generate contract bidding wars. Too often, contracts are focused on cost rather than service quality levels. Some private security companies secure contracts by undercutting competitors by reducing the company’s running costs. One of the main ways of cutting costs is by the underpayment of wages. Guards are employed on a lower grade rate than the client is charged for and operational cost passed down to the guards. Items like uniforms and nametags are billed to both the client and the guards, while leave days and bonuses are included in the contract price but not paid to the security officers. Labour court rulings indicate that the underpayment of guards and other illegal labour practices are not limited to small companies only. Companies that are illegally cutting costs by underpaying their employees often also cut costs in other areas such as training and equipment issued.

High staff turnover has been the norm with some estimating that staff turnover could be as high as 200% a year in the guarding sector. When an incident occurs that involves a security officer, he is simply moved to another location or returned to the pool of guards to be employed by another service provider. Because of the amount of companies and the cutthroat nature of the industry, rival companies don’t share information about employees and incidents even if it means potentially exposing a client to a threat.

All of this has led to bad working conditions within the industry. In 2006, private security personnel went on a countrywide strike that lasted 96 days and cost the industry more than a million working days. The striking workers looted and damaged property, and committed violent crimes. In 2015, the country might experience another strike as the industry sits down to negotiate minimum wages following similar strikes in the mining sector.


Lack of security knowledge and management

There has been a steep increase in the demand for private security services from 2005 to 2015 in response to high crime levels in South Africa. In most instances, security services are outsourced due to the specialised nature of the service. Most users of outsourced services do so to complement a lack of internal skills to run this function. However, many also appoint the outsourced security service provider to manage its own contract. This in turn has the effect that many service discrepancies are not reported and in fact hidden from the user. Many users only find out the discrepancies in service after an incident has occurred.

The steep increase in demand means that many business people are in security with few security people being in security. For an industry worth R50 billion and employing almost 400 000 people it is also striking that you can only study security management at one university in South Africa with two that only provide a post graduate option. Few security service providers have an active strategy to combat crime, instead they list a number of services that are merely an alternative to that of their competition.



Many security service providers fight vigorously against the involvement of a third party or access to certain systems and information. Monthly reports are full of detail on occurrences and post incident investigations but generally ignore the origin of the problem. It can in turn lead to resources being wasted on solutions that are not based on the actual security risks. To top that, security advice is acquired from sales consultants, installers and other 'experts' whose knowledge is usually limited and subjective to their specific field of expertise.

More companies value the need for transparency and compliance when it comes to security and are moving to independent security management options. These include remote viewing of security systems as well as independent onsite and remote security audits. One such company is Cape Town’s Astrosec. Astrosec uses its SAIDSA accredited facility to reveal the truth about the effectiveness of current security strategies while managing service level agreements (SLA) between the user and security service provider. This has the duel advantage that a third party can just focus on improving security while ensuring that the user complies with all legislative requirements. When done correctly, it can mean a dramatic increase in the quality of security at no cost to the user.

Ultimately, the responsibility lies with the end user. There needs to be a clear and defined strategy to mitigate all security risks by demonstrating responsiveness, diligence, judgment and a willingness to build on a culture of accountability.

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