Suitably Qualified, Safe and Effective?

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Training Private Security in New Zealand

Private security, in one form or another, has become a pervasive feature of everyday life. But, our increasing reliance on private security has not been matched with high standards or good practice. In April 2011, the Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Act (2010) [‘the Act’] sought to change that in New Zealand, by replacing an obsolete regulatory framework first introduced over three decades ago.

The NZ Associate Minister of Justice announced that the Act would achieve ‘high industry standards’ and reduce ‘the significant risk of harm’ (Guy, 2010). The New Zealand Security Association (NZSA) described it as an important step in ‘raising professionalism’ and ‘driving out poor quality operations’ (Newman, 2014: 10). This new regulation covered more security operatives, including crowd controllers/door supervisors (‘bouncers’) and personal (body) guards. To ensure compliance, the government established a new ‘dedicated’ Licensing Authority (PSPLA) and enforcement agency (CIPU), while increasing penalties for unlicensed operators.

Of all of the changes, politicians saw that Mandatory Training (MT) was most likely to improve industry standards. Introduced in October 2013, MT was imposed on those ‘public facing’ personnel most likely to be involved in physical confrontations that could inflict and/or sustain physical injury. Associate Minister of Justice, Chester Burrows, claimed MT would ‘ensure security personnel have the skills to work safely and effectively’ and that ‘those employed to protect us would be suitably qualified’ (Burrows, 2013).

In late 2017, the first license and certificate of approval (CoA) renewals process is underway. It is timely to investigate the impact of MT – do we now have safe and effective private security workers?

A short primer on the licencing system

Licenses (employers) and Certificates of Approval (CoAs: employees) are issued for a five year period, after which they can be renewed. For obvious reasons, CoAs greatly outnumber licenses. Each License or CoA can include ‘approval’ to operate in more than one of the eight different ‘classes’ of activity. Many individuals are approved to operate across multiple classes. However, to calculate the approvals issued for each ‘class’, each approval is effectively counted as a separate ‘license’ or ‘CoA’. The number of Licenses and/or CoAs in circulation is therefore always much higher than the number of individuals in possession of them. In December 2016, for example, 63,433 License or CoA classes, or ‘approvals to operate’, were spread among 24,294 individuals.

Table 1 presents all ‘active’ licenses and CoAs, broken down into the eight different classes, and the proportion of the total each class represents. Reflecting higher demand for their services, property or personal guard and/or crowd controller/door supervisor make up the majority of all CoA approvals in circulation.

Table 1: All ‘active’ Licenses and CoAs

Company & Individual Licenses and CoAs – December 2016

CoAs % Company Licenses % Individual Licenses % Total % of Total
Property Guard 16,334 26% 415 12% 147 14% 16,896 25%
Crowd Controller 15,636 25% 361 11% 140 14% 16,137 24%
Personal Guard 12,814 21% 335 10% 122 12% 13,271 20%
Security Consultant 4,938 8% 798 24% 187 18% 5,923 9%
Security Technician 4,579 7% 817 24% 173 17% 5,569 8%
Doc. Destruct Agent 4,884 8% 200 6% 47 5% 5,131 8%
Private Investigator 2,283 4% 306 9% 141 14% 2,730 4%
Repossession Agent 949 2% 115 3% 59 6% 1,123 2%
Totals 62,417 100% 3,347 100% 1,016 100% 66,780 100%

By volume, property guards (25%) make up the largest class, closely followed by crowd controllers/door supervisors (24%) and personal guards (20%). The number of approved property guards is almost three times the class of security consultants and over three times that of security technicians. The skills required by, and thus higher barriers to entry for, consultants (4,938) and technicians (4,579) helps explain their lower number. Conversely, higher numbers of property (16,334) and personal guard (12,814) and crowd controller (15,636) approvals reflect much lower barriers to entry.

‘Suitably qualified’?

With almost 70% of CoAs containing approvals to operate as property/personal guards or crowd controllers, MT should have significant reach and impact. For meaningful change, there needs to be a critical mass of trained personnel. Four years after MT’s introduction, we should have seen real shifts in the sector. Licence/CoA holders were given a year to meet the new training requirements of completing an 18 hour course (see Bradley, 2016; Newman, 2017).

In December 2016, two years after the training completion deadline had elapsed, over 40% of the 1,565 certified property (security) guards had still not been trained. Of more concern, given the ‘alcohol factor’ and the much greater likelihood of physical confrontation and risk of physical injury, over 60% of the 1,348 approved as crowd controllers (including ‘bouncers’) had not completed training.

More promisingly, guards who had been certified to operate in two classes – as property guards and crowd controllers – have higher rates of compliance. Of these 1,851 individuals, almost two thirds (36.5%) had been trained. Further, those 6,367 individuals certified to operate across three classes (property/personal guard and crowd control) have even higher compliance, with 78% trained. Still, over a third of all two-class CoAs and a fifth of those approved for three classes have still not been trained. Clearly, we have not yet met the critical mass of trained security personnel required to develop a safe and effective industry.

The Enforcement Response

This extensive and apparently wilful industry non-compliance has not gone unnoticed. In November 2015, a year after the training deadline had elapsed, the Licensing Authority drew attention to an ‘apparent lack of commitment to comply’ (Gill, 2015).

Two courses of action were available. The first, aligned with the Government‘s claimed commitment to ‘clean up’ the industry, was to withdraw all non-compliant licenses/CoAs and thereby make it clear that such wilful breaches would not be tolerated. The second was to do nothing, wait for the license/CoA renewals process to begin in May 2016, and use this administratively convenient mechanism to reject non-compliant applicants. The Licensing Authority chose the latter on the grounds that to have done otherwise would have ‘gutted the industry’ (Gill, 2015).

Withdrawing almost 3000 licenses and CoAs would have created problems for security companies. However, the Licensing Authority was not established to accommodate the best interests of the security industry but rather to administer and enforce the Act. In doing so, they protect the end-users of security services and the general public.

The Authority’s decision will cause significant delays in advancing industry practice and standards, especially given that the renewals process is staggered. Licenses/CoAs are renewed on their five year anniversary, meaning that those issued before October 2013 were given a five year ‘free pass’. Patrons of sports stadia, bars and nightclubs and concert venues, along with users of ‘mass private property’ policed by certified security personnel, rightfully assume a basic level of competence and professional standards. However, we all have to wait until 2018 to be ‘confident’ that all those employed to protect us will have completed the training that successive Ministers claimed was key to reducing the harms that warranted MT in the first place.

In the meantime, newspaper headlines such as Complaints Laid Over Broken Arms, Savage Auckland Attack Caught On Camera and ‘No Justification’ for Bouncer Headlock Caught on Video will continue to expose the reality of ‘professionalism’ in New Zealand’s ‘manned’ security sector.

Trevor Bradley is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. 


Bradley, T. (2016) ‘Governing Private Security in New Zealand’, The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, Vol. 49(2) 159–178.

Burrows, C. (2013) ‘New security industry training regulations to strengthen public safety’, Media release 28 August: Office of the Associate Minister of Justice: Wellington.

Button, M. & Stiernstedt, P. (2016) ‘Comparing private security regulation in the European Union’, Policing & Society, p.1-17, accessed 1 April 2016.

Gill, R. (2015) ‘PSPLA Update’, New Zealand Security Association Conference and Exhibition, Safe and Secure Cities, 21 November: Auckland.

Guy, N. (2010) ‘Legislation Updates’, New Zealand Security Association Conference and Exhibition, The Security Industry in Today’s Environment, 15 September: Auckland.

Newman, K. (2014) ‘Professionalism of security guards key to improving industry reputation’, NZ Security, December 2013 – January 2014 Issue, p.8-16.

Newman, K. (2017) ‘Security Slammed for Failure to train’, NZ Security, February/March Issue, p8-13.

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