Miss. may license alarm firms, guards

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

JACKSON, Miss.--Lawmakers here are considering bills that would, for the first time, require licensing for alarm companies and guarding firms, along with employees of both types of companies.
Senate Bill 2742, sponsored by Democrat Nolan Mettetal, regarding alarm companies, made it out of the Business and Financial Institutions Committee in mid-January, and House Bill 1301, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem J.P. Compretta, made it out of the Judiciary Committee at the close of the month.
Similar bills submitted by Sen. Gary Jackson recently died in committee. Forty of the 50 states require the licensing of security professionals.
Both active bills will now be considered by their respective chambers and should be voted on before the end of February. They are a long way from becoming law, as similar bills must make their way through the respective opposing houses of the Mississippi Legislature before they find themselves on the governor's desk, but industry members here are hopeful the licensing will be passed.
Jim Brewer, owner of Jackson-based Capital Security, refers to the guarding bill as the "Charlie Brown Bill," after a long-time employee who had been advocating for guard licensing before he died last year. "I could escape from the state pen today and go to work as a security officer tomorrow," said Brewer. "A lot of people are just not aware of this." He is also very supportive of the alarm bill and noted that the Mississippi Sheriff's Association was behind both efforts.
Asked if he thought licensing would harm small companies, Brewer thought it unlikely. "The big thing is background checks," he said. "I don't care if you've got one person, you've got to have a background check" before you work as a security professional.
The alarm bill, "An Act to Create the Mississippi Residential Electronic Protection Licensing Act," would "establish statewide uniform procedures and qualifications for the licensure of individuals and companies," along with creating training and continuing education requirements, instituting penalties operating without a license and creating the Electronic Protection Licensing Advisory Board to oversee the law's enforcement.
The guard bill is similar. "An Act to Create the Private Security and Licensing Law" would create the Mississippi Board of Private Security Examiners to examine license applicants and administer provisions for posting of licenses and further registering of armed guards. Sixteen hours of training would be required for newly licensed guards. There would also be penalties for operating without a license.
Reed Branson, a lobbyist with Capitol Resources, has been hired by the National Association of Security Companies to push the guard bill. He credits NASCO's involvement with creating Legislative interest in the guard bill. He is optimistic it will pass.
"There is some business-minded concerns about putting smaller companies at a disadvantage," Branson acknowledged, but "the more we talk about it as a public safety issue" the more support he's gathering.
John Jenkins is an accounts manager with All-State Security Services, a guarding firm that employs 12 in Robinsonville, Mississippi. Though he was unfamiliar with the language of the bills, he said he thought requirements for training were a good idea. "In this industry," Jenkins said, "officers are not looked upon exactly as police officers, but at least as those who report directly to police officers, and therefore I think training would be a good thing." He puts his employees through a 24-hour training course, involving report writing, "dos and don'ts," handcuffing techniques and more.
NACSO executive director Joseph Ricci echoed Jenkins with his support of the guard bill: "There's an expectation if someone sees someone in uniform that it means something," he said. "In some states that doesn't mean that much. We want to change that. It's a trust issue."
Similar bills regarding licensing and background checks have been introduced in Georgia, but have yet to make it out of committee to be eligible for a floor vote.