NBC 7 Investigates Reveals Underground Industry of Unlicensed Guards and Bouncers

Who’s keeping you safe at your local bar?

NBC 7 Investigates is revealing what’s being called an “underground industry” of unlicensed, untrained security officers and bouncers in San Diego County. Local security experts say businesses are hiring security officers cheap and turning a blind eye to state requirements.

Since December, a night out at a bar turned deadly for two San Diego men. One death was ruled a suspicious and is still under investigation. The other has led to a bouncer placed behind bars charged in the young man’s death.

“With the proper training, these types of things can be cut down drastically,” said former SDPD detective and CEO of Security Nightclub Consultants Robert Smith. “Probably 70-75% [of working security officers] are not licensed properly. “

That staggering figure, according to Smith, is based on his encounters with thousands of working guards and prospective guards who go through his training throughout California.

Roy Rahn, the Executive Director of the California Association of Licensed Security Agencies, Guards and Associates (CALSAGA) says there is no way to know exactly how many unlicensed working security officers there are, but he agrees, it’s a big problem.

“I think it might be a bigger problem than people understand it to be,” Rahn said. “It’s an underground industry, the unlicensed activity. I mean, these are companies that I think try to keep things low key, and they certainly don’t go out and advertise the fact that they hire unlicensed officers.”

NBC 7 Investigates learned the problem is more complicated than working guards being unlicensed and untrained. Many of them are receiving security jobs without the proper training.

“I can tell you for proprietary security guards, the ones that work for restaurants and bars and those sort of things, unlicensed activity can be a vexing problem because not every bar that springs up is aware of the licensing requirement,” said Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which is the agency that regulates the industry. “It’s not so much underground as they are unaware.”

In the State of California, nearly everyone working to provide security must be licensed. According to the Department of Consumer Affairs that person must also wear clothing that identifies him or her as security. Robert Smith said, many of them and employers believe it’s okay just to have something called a “guard card.” NBC 7 Investigates wanted to find out more from the source – from security officers and bouncers themselves. We walked around the Gaslamp and North Park, home to some of the county’s most popular bars.

We asked security officer Nicholas White what he thinks of the guard card program.

“To be honest with you, it’s not even appropriate for what we do,” said White.

NBC 7 Investigates also spoke with security officer Steven Smith. He said, “When I went to get my guard card training, it was supposed to be 40 hours. I only received six.

Steven Smith has been the head of security for some of Downtown San Diego’s top bars. He said he made it a point to get properly trained by completing more job-specific training on top of the six hours he received to get his guard card. He said, in his line of work, you need it.

Carlsbad resident Mark Girard Senior lost his son in December. Police said the 27-year-old got into a fight with Fire Water Saloon bouncer Derrick Belzer, who struck Girard Junior's head. Belzer was arrested and charged for involuntary manslaughter, he pleaded not guilty.

“He was out having a good night with his friends and ran into somebody that shouldn't have been in the position he was in,” said Girard Senior.

NBC 7 Investigates found Belzer was not licensed to be a security officer in California and according to police has a criminal history stemming from charges in both California and Texas.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs is the agency that regulates this industry and can crack down on unlicensed activity.

In a phone interview with the Department Spokesman, NBC 7 Investigates learned, the agency in charge says it's not up to them to make sure companies are hiring properly trained guards.

“The owners are responsible for making sure that they people they hire have eight hours of training before they sent out on post,” said spokesman Russ Heimerich. He added, a security officer only needs to be licensed if the employee is wearing clothing that identifies him or her as security. If the person is not wearing a uniform, but performing the same duties, no license is required.

NBC 7 Investigates is going to continue to look into these issues.

To report unlicensed activity in your area, visit this website.

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