The new standard for security officers

New law mandates training or fines, but the county offers free courses; Designated Driver program successful

By Michael Sullivan 01/12/2012

They are some of the first people you meet and greet when you go out on the town. Depending on what time you go out, some will show up around 6 p.m., but for most places, they will always be there by 10 p.m. No matter the time they arrive, one thing can be certain: if you start making trouble, they will certainly be the last people you see as you are escorted out of the building.


They are Ventura County’s club and bar proprietary private security officers (PPSO), better known as bouncers. Once thought of as the quiet bulky types who only examined IDs and broke up fights, many of the security officers in the county and the state have evolved into relatively well-informed and -trained peace keepers and, some say, preventive managers.


Due to a two-part law passed over the last few years, security officers, spanning the gamut from those who watch vacant warehouses to those who provide security at events with thousands of people, now have to register with the state, go through background checks and complete 16 hours of mandated specialized training. (The first part of the law included only registration and background checks, enacted in 2009. The second part of the law included training, enacted in January 2011.) If a security guard fails to comply with the law, the owner of the establishment may be fined up to $5,000. The law was created due to a series of issues involving nightlife and ill-equipped security guards.


“[Before I started my security officer training in 1998,] there were no standards for bouncers, no regulations,” said Richard Smith, a former San Diego police officer and now owner of Nightclub Security Consultants, which offers security officer training throughout the state. Smith remembered police calls regarding problems with security officers who had criminal records and were committing offenses on the job.


He said that the lack of regulations put people at risk in bars and nightclubs across the country and, in two extreme cases, it led to sexual assault and a murder. When a woman was sexually assaulted by a bouncer in San Diego, state Sen. Abel Maldonado, R-San Luis Obispo, introduced legislation to create tight standards for security guards.


While the new law may be good news for those cautious about nightlife and who want tighter, better-informed security, it may be problematic in a variety of ways. Dominka Montgomery, general manager of Bombay Bar and Grill in Downtown Ventura, said that the 16-hour duration seems a bit long for the nature of the security officers’ jobs, given most of them only work part time, and the cost of registration, background checks ($110) and training, which can be hundreds of dollars or more, may not be in the budget of the employer or the employee. Currently employed security officers will have to complete the training, and their employers will most likely have to foot the bill; new employees will have to pay for the training themselves.


Loanne Wullaert, manager of the Ventura Theater, said she wasn’t initially excited about the new law.


“Honestly, at first I was really irritated about it,” Wullaert wrote in an e-mail.  “Yet now that we have had some guys go through it, I am very happy with the results.”


Luckily for Wullaert, Montgomery and all club and bar owners in Ventura County, through grant money, the county is now offering the training free of charge. The training program offered by Smith will be offered monthly through June for any business that needs to train its security officers to comply with the law.


Dan Hicks, prevention manager for the county’s alcohol and drug program, stated that the effort to allocate the funding and offer classes locally wasn’t necessarily just to complete the comprehensive course on security officer training, which covers such topics as criminal and civil litigation and professional standards for dealing with the public. Hicks said the effort had more to do with preventing DUI-related incidents.


“A lot of people who get DUIs report to us that the people who could have changed their experiences were security guards,” Hicks said. While servers, bartenders and managers have gone through various sorts of training, he relayed that there was very little focus on security officers and what they could do to help prevent DUI-related incidents.


The effort to prevent DUIs in Ventura County goes hand in hand with the county’s Designated Driver (DD) Program, which began in July 2011. The program includes raffles of concert tickets and gas cards, and offers free food for designated drivers. The purpose of the program, which occurs before major holidays and events, is to help people plan ahead. Karin Fortson, program administrator for preventing impaired driving at the county’s Behavioral Health department, said that the program has been a success, comparing the summer months of 2010 and 2011.


“We had 182 DUI arrests in summer months of 2010, July through August 2010. In the same three months in 2011, when we kicked off the DD Program, it went down to 116, a 37 percent reduction,” Fortson said.


Though the training may be arduous to get through at times (certain security guards said, for example, that they felt the litigation discussion had nothing to do with their jobs), the county is trying to make sure that is the only tough part, relieving business owners and employees of the cost. Fortson said the county will continue to apply for grant funding to ensure all guards are in compliance. Also, the DD program, which had been funded by grants and is now being supported by the county and businesses, coupled with the training, is part of the bold effort to keep overly intoxicated people off the road and to save lives.


The next Nightclub Security Training sessions are scheduled for January 22, 23; and 24; February 11 and 12; and March 21, 22, 28 and 29. This training is open to any security personnel, manager, or alcohol establishment owner operating in Ventura County. To register for the training course, contact Kari Fortson at kari.fortson@ventura.org or call her at 662-1874.

The next Designated Driver Nights are planned for January 27 and March 9, before the traditional “drinking holiday or event” Superbowl Sunday and St. Patrick’s Day. The county will also have a presence during Music Week in Ventura, February 15 - 19, though it is not doing a full DD promotion.

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