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Why the New Private Security Bill is a Sham

Why the New Private Security Bill is a Sham

By Darryn Loveridge

New Zealand Security Officers Association

Monday 13 October 2008

The long awaited Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Bill has finally been introduced into Parliament. The brainchild of Associate Justice Minister Clayton Cosgrove, the Bill has been designed to address a number of deficiencies in the current system. At least this is what we are being led to believe.

In the new Bill, Clayton Cosgrove addresses three main areas of reform. Firstly, he addresses loopholes in the licensing requirements themselves. The proposed bill will see that these requirements will be extended to cover a wider range of security-related activities, in particular, crowd controllers including bouncers; bodyguards; and private security staff guarding people in legal custody. Secondly, mandatory training will be required of security personnel, particularly if the nature of the work is such that there is a significant risk of physical violence occurring. Thirdly, a new enforcement body will be created to ensure compliance with the new legislation, with tougher penalties for those who commit offences under the new bill.

To the average person, the reforms look sound. Under closer inspection, the reforms do not go far enough. For contained within are three major flaws.

The first major flaw in this bill was the way in which the review of the industry prior to the drafting of this bill was conducted. Department of Justice officials responsible to review the private security industry were prohibited from investigating any issue that was not contained within the existing Private Investigators and Security Guards Act with the exception of training.

For example, Justice officials were not permitted to examine the legislation outlining a security officers powers of arrest and detention, the same as those of a private citizen, which are listed under the Crimes Act 1961. This was despite the fact that the Registrar of Private Investigators and Security Officers recommended earlier this year, increased "powers of detention" be given to security officers.

Many people may well ask, “Why do we need to give security officers increased powers of detention?” The answer to this is simple. Security officers are continually picking up the slack when police are delayed attending violent incidents. Furthermore, security officers now perform a much greater range of activities than what they previously did.

For example, Crime levels in South Auckland have prompted the Manukau City Council to look into proposals to deploy three teams of five guards across the city on a 24 hour, seven day a week basis. Councillor Dick Quax said the region has one of the most under-resourced in terms of police and there was a demand for extra security measures. He says the proposal will be part of the council's long-term council community plan up for consultation early next year.

Hunters Corner Business Association chair John McCracken said the local council needed front line police with statutory powers, not security guards who have no powers. He went on to say that security guards could find themselves in danger if they are sent on patrol in south Auckland.

This is not to say that security officers cannot do this work. In other western countries such as Britain and Australia, there are legislative provisions to extend powers of arrest and detention to adequately trained security officers. This has proven to be successful in addressing anti-social crime as well as providing an employment pool for police to select suitable personnel to increase their ranks. Again, the New Zealand Government didn’t take the time to look at these alternatives.

Then there is the issue of crimes by night and day. Security officers are protected from criminal responsibility for arresting a person found committing a crime by night, which is between 9:00pm and 6:00am. If the offence is by day, the maximum punishment of the offence must not be less than 3 years' imprisonment if the security officer is to apprehend the offender. Again offenders know and understand these loopholes and the security officer is powerless to intervene.

By not examining the Crimes Act 1961, the Trespass Act 1980 and other legislation applicable to the regulation of the activities of New Zealand Security Guards during the review, Clayton Cosgrove has missed the mark. But this is not the only flaw to this Bill.

The next major flaw to be found is that employers will be able to continue to deploy untrained personal. The new Bill makes provision for a three-month trial period during which the employee need not undergo training. This will allow employers with very high staff turnover rates and questionable staff hiring practices to continue to do so and will actually provide them financial incentive to ensure new employees are not employed any longer than three months.

For example, in January 2007, one security company was investigated by the Immigration Department amid revelations it hired bank and Customs guards without work permits and with questionable security authorisation. It was understood that the guards had been working for several weeks in banks and at Customs clearance areas such as those for cruise-ship passengers on Auckland's waterfront.

Furthermore, some security guards will escape police and criminal history checks by allowing clients to hire their own ‘in-house’ security staff. This is completely contrary to what the new Bill was specifically designed to ensure. This is the third major flaw to this Bill.

Not requiring the licensing of "in house" Officers allows employers to continue to appoint persons, not necessarily suitable or qualified to do so, to undertake the duties of a security officer. Those persons then go out there and interact with the public in our shopping malls, our cinemas, and our public venues, which poses a serious threat.

Outside of the licensing regime, employers are severely limited in their ability to check the background of an employee, particularly with today's clean slate legislation, and with the person being unlicensed, Police are unaware that such people are employed to carry out the activities of a security officer.

The temptation to avoid expenditure on the provision of professional security officers may lead to a significant increase in the number of "in house" security staff creating the opportunity for persons unsuited for or prevented from obtaining a licence to undertake the role of a security officer "in house".

In the past, hiring ‘in-house’ security staff has lead to disaster. In during 2005, a man with 183 convictions for dishonesty was employed as a security guard in Wellington before going on to steal property worth more than $10,000. He was sentenced to three years jail, his 22nd prison sentence, when he appeared on charges of theft, obtaining money by deception and intentional damage. While working as a security guard for a business, he took a data projector and a digital camera worth $7700 from a site he was meant to be guarding. He later told police that he had sold these items to feed a gambling addiction.

Another guard in Dunedin was jailed for nine months after pleading guilty to the theft of $19 577 in cash and cheques from his employer on October 27 2003. It was later found that he had a previous history of offending between 1992 and 1995.

Another guard was sentenced to 180 hours community work, six months supervision and fined $400 dollars for theft of items from a film set and the cultivation and possession of cannabis in December 2003. The cannabis was discovered when police conducted a search of his home after the thefts on the film set had been noticed.

With reference to these dishonesty offences, I remember the response to a letter I sent to then Associate Minister of Justice, Rick Barker as to why nothing was being done to safeguard businesses from security officers who steal from their clients. I was later told in a letter from Police involved with licensing regime that these were ‘in-house’ security guards and they fell outside the requirements of the current legislation.

The saddest aspect of this whole situation is that the New Zealand Government did not take heed of the message when former test cricketer David Hookes died in the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne on the 19th January 2004 after an altercation with a doorman outside a Melbourne Hotel. Whilst Australian jurisdictions sat up and took note, the New Zealand Government waited for a further two deaths here in New Zealand, to occur as a result of altercations with doormen. It was only after the second death that action was taken.

Therefore, the Government, the Police, Industry executives are only too aware of the loopholes. But no one is really interested. The Government, the Opposition and industry lobby groups just want to rubber stamp this new Bill so that the Government is seen to be doing something and so private business can continue unfettered by government regulation. Nothing with any real substance is set to change. No safeguards have been provided to the public, the people paying hard earned money for security services or security officers trying to keep our communities safe. This is why the new private security Bill can only be seen to be a sham.


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