December 18, 2014

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State has holes in security checks

Ohio’s private guards can get lost in maze of paperwork, uneven regulation

Andrew Welsh-Huggins
The Associated Press
COLUMBUS — When security guard Stephanie Reeves took her latest job, her many years in the field were a bonus to her new employer but didn’t mean much to the state.
Under Ohio’s system for regulating the private guards, security companies must register all new employees, even if they are moving directly from one firm to another.
That can mean a temporary loss of income for guards as they wait to be processed and accounting headaches for companies in a business with high turnover. Meanwhile, the state can’t say exactly how many guards it regulates since registrations often overlap.
“If I were to find a better position in another company, I would have to wait until my card’s reprocessed through Homeland Security,” said Reeves, who guards a payday loan store six days a week on assignment for Cincinnati-based CalCrim Inc. The private investigator and security guard company has operations in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
If she had her own license, “I could go to work tomorrow for another company.”
The state estimates about 21,000 individuals holding security guard licenses but says that number could be inflated by as much as 3,000 since employees are registered each time they go to work for a new company, meaning some could be registered multiple times.
That creates problems for companies, since it’s their responsibility not only to register new employees but to make sure former employees are removed from a company’s records with the state.
“You come to work for a company, they fingerprint you, they hope to get the results back in a timely fashion, and then you decide to jump ship for a nickel more,” said Pete Miragliotta, chief executive officer of Cleveland-based Tenable Protective Services.
The industry wants the registration process reversed: create a license that guards apply for and then carry from job to job.
“If the doctor doesn’t keep his license up, the hospital doesn’t necessarily get in trouble,” said Mike Moran, general counsel for the Ohio Association of Security and Investigation Services.
The state’s approach makes it difficult to regulate security guards since regulators at the Ohio Department of Homeland Security don’t have a grasp of the work force totals, he said.
The state is looking at the issue of a portable identification card for guards but needs to examine the cost and whether the change would benefit the regulation system, said Tom Hunter, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Homeland Security division.
While some companies favor the approach, “the entire industry is not supportive of the revised concept,” Hunter said.
Complicating matters is a patchwork of state laws across the country regulating the industry, The Associated Press found in a survey by its bureaus in 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The result: wide chasms among states in requirements for training and background checks of guards. The survey also found tens of thousands of job applicants have criminal backgrounds.
Changing the way Ohio licenses guards and beefing up their training requirements are the industry’s top two priorities, said Gregg Hollenbaugh, CalCrim president and chairman of the state’s Private Investigation & Security Services Commission.
If all guards had portable registration cards, the public and companies would “know they have somebody that has a background check done by the state of Ohio and they should be an OK person to deal with,” he said.
Hollenbaugh and others hope requiring security guards to seek their own licenses would also help cut down on the number of companies that hire guards but don’t register them properly.
In the past three years, Homeland Security has launched 25 investigations of companies for registration violations resulting in fines of $188,755.
Last year, St. Moritz Security Systems Inc. agreed to pay the state $70,000 to settle complaints of several improperly licensed guards working out of offices in Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo.
The company takes responsibility for the problem, blaming the negligence of a manager who put guards on the streets without registering them, said St. Moritz President Paul Harris. Since then the company has assigned a full-time employee who does nothing but keep up the registrations of about 250 St. Moritz employees in Ohio.
A portable registration card probably would eliminate the need for that supervision, Harris said.
“Once you got the card, we could put it in our system and know the guard was hired,” he said. “Now, every time we hire a new guard we have to make sure we track him and make sure the paperwork goes in.”  

By the numbers
Private security guards in Ohio: About 21,000, which could include about 3,000 that are double counted because they work for more than one company.
Cost to companies to register a new guard with the state: $35.
Cost to renew that registration annually: $20.
Number of investigations into “registration violations” by security guard companies the Ohio Department of Homeland Security initiated in the past three years: 25.
Total fines: $188,755.
Number of applications Ohio received for security guard registrations that required an FBI criminal background check: 833.
Number rejected: 100.
Source: Ohio Department of Homeland Security.