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Opinions of Thursday, 26 November 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

The Private Security Agencies Abound

THE VOICE OF REASON:

The Private Security Agencies Abound: Let’s Caution Against The Sub-Standard Ones.

MR ODURO WAS the only wealthy person in town when I was growing up. He was in a timber- logging business and owned an old model, climate- beat-up Mercedes sedan , which needed top –of- the- line body works and a paint job badly. However, that did not insulate or prevent him from been an envy of the town.

He was a hard -working man ,so he went to work before the sun peeled through the window curtains , and had his evening meals at nights because he had to count his money every day before the evening meal is served. On a payday, he spent the day with his employees at his makeshift ‘office’, under a mango tree ,and issued instructions for the next day’s assignments. Nevertheless, the idea of having a “watchman” let alone a private security guard never even crossed his mind because everyone in town was afraid of him. His voice thundered when he spoke at times, and that alone was enough to send messages and served as a warning to mischievous people in town and everywhere. We even had a nickname for him: “Mr. no-nonsense”.! And he did live up to that reputation, indeed !

“A Private security system” has always been the integral part of the affluent households in Ghana .But the crime wave has increased in recent times and that has also created a demand for personal security guards in Ghana. This situation has created an avenue for the proliferation of Private security services in recent times. But are these mushrooming private security guys up to the task? Or are they just our modern day “watchmen”?

As the standard of living of Ghanaians increases, it is expected that crime rate in Ghana will most likely increase very remarkably—thanks to high unemployment rate and under –funded police force. Let’s face it; there are so many places, towns and neighborhoods in Ghana where police presence is nonexistent. This obviously is a recipe for high demand for persons who can provide protection of property and in some cases lives.

Our police are ill-equipped, under-funded, over-stretched- thin and underpaid with very little motivation to combat crime ,as such private security companies are stepping in to fill the void and provide security service to protect the affluent citizenry and business enterprises.

These private security companies are gradually becoming Ghana’s de facto police force. That’s very dangerous and in fact a threat to national security, mindful of the fact that a lot of these hired persons have little or no background check conducted on them. Can we ask the kind of security do these guards provide and how they are regulated? By the way, who are their employers?

To an untrained mind of the Public safety arena, as long as they’re providing the needed services to those who can afford them, there is no cause for alarm. However, my concern is: Are these privately rented security personnel in some instances with questionable credentials and poor background checks ready for the task? The character of these guards needs verification.

There are other factors that the government needs to look into in order to make them viable and integral part of the security apparatus of the nation—if that is the goal.

First of all, many of the private security persons are men who tried and failed to enter the national police or military forces but found a job in another uniform. Some of them have questionable credentials, their identities cannot be verified. Some have poor physical aliments and are unable to pass basic literacy test. These are the people who fill the ranks and file of the Private security system.

Private security guards are supposed to be the front line security men and women at the entrances of the banks, stores ,offices, apartment buildings, and even schools and colleges. They are sometimes the first on scene in accidents and fires.

As ambulance and fire services are slow or nonexistent in many parts of Ghana, the roles of these guards as support services in our nation are varied and vital. But, they don’t have adequate training, if any, to prepare them for their tasks. Like their senior men and women in the state security services undoubtedly, their pay is nothing to write home about .They labor for peanuts, so one shouldn’t expect too much from them.

Unfortunately, these security guards are moving from guarding wealthy private homes, hotels to protecting banks and other important government buildings with bare hands and no insurance protection to help them and their families in case of any accident or incident.

Suggestions: 1) The companies should hire former military and police officers who are still physically fit.

2) The Criminal Investigation Department of the Police should create a unit that will be responsible to conduct independent background checks on these privately rented security guys.

3) They should be trained to handle non lethal weapons

4) They should be trained in first aid, and basic reporting issues, and grade certified based on knowledge.

5) Strengthening the national police force to work in conjunction with private security agencies will not only help to foster understanding but it will also help the recruits to learn valuable basic policing techniques, and to alleviate the workload of the national police so as to enable it to use its manpower effectively and judiciously.

6) Those that meet the national standard should be regulated and recognized by license.

7) Establish a national board to review the agencies’ annually to ensure regulations and guidance are adhered to by the security companies.

I’m sure these and other mandatory training measures can help to weed out corrupt, ineffective and weak guards from the system.

Right now the question is not when but how are we and our police going to coexist with the security firms and their men? Finding answers to this and other pressing questions will help to prepare the public and individual clients who are investing their over-stretched hopes and trust in men with whom not only they don’t know but they have to share their homes and office spaces and possibly their ‘secret lives’.

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (THE VOICE OF REASON) NJ, USA.

*The author is a social commentator, a founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment, Educational and Apprenticeship Program Foundation at Asuom.