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Home » Amid Protests and Unrest, Demand for Security Jobs in Washington has Jumped

Amid Protests and Unrest, Demand for Security Jobs in Washington has Jumped


Amid mounting layoffs in Washington state that have been linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for security guards has jumped, a silver lining following a year of virus-related closures and street protests that have roiled the country and the state.

Security guards are now one of the most in-demand occupations in the state, landing in the top 25 roles being sought by employers, despite the nature of the job in which guards could be confronted with life-or-death decisions.

“The summer hit and that is when we had a surge in demand,” said Steve Jones, CEO of Allied Universal, which provides security systems and services. “There’s just not enough police resources to stop everything that is going on.”

During chaotic street protests that erupted in Seattle following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, local demonstrators torched police cruisers, shattered glass on downtown store fronts, looted some businesses and tagged others.

Officers from the Seattle Police Department responded en masse but phones for private security firms began ringing off the hook.

Allied Universal is one of the largest security firms in the country, and Jones said inquiries for their around-the-clock services increased.

“When it’s nights and weekends and after hours, that is when scary things happen,” he said. “And our folks are working around the clock.”

Brian Humphries, the regional manager for Security Services Northwest, said demand for help from his firm has also increased.

“We’ve hired 100 employees and have grown in people hours three-fold over the course of the last year,” he said of his Seattle-based firm, which has been in business for more than 40 years and operates in four states. “The change has been significant with all the civil unrest in the area.”

The U.S. Labor Department is expected to report data on job growth, which will include security guards, at the end of March. But the projected growth in the sector from 2019 to 2029, without accounting for the surge in 2020, is 2.8 percent for security guards and 5 percent for guards who will work within the investigation and security services industry.

Washington state is expected to issue its report in July.

Capitol Hill businesses seek outside help

When Seattle police officers abruptly abandoned their East Precinct building last June and protesters claimed stake to a six-block area that would become the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest, or CHOP, zone, several businesses in the area reached out to private security firms.

John McDermott, who owns an auto repair firm, said he had an intense encounter with protesters, prompting him to hire security guards to protect his property.

“A lot of people do try to get into the business,” he said, adding that he and his son slept at their auto shop overnight to thwart break-ins

McDermott advises that those who are considering hiring security guards should check for:

  • Licensing requirements

  • Liability insurance

  • State compliance

  • Training requirements and background checks.

Security guards in Washington state are required to carry a guard identification card that must show their name, address and ID number. Upon request, the guards must display either a hard copy version or a digital one.

“We continually look to hire as fast as we can and get officers trained and up to standards and levels we want,” Humphries said.

He said requests for his firm’s services began at Life Care Center in Kirkland, the site of the first known COVID-19 death in the state and the epicenter for coronavirus in the U.S. at the time.

He said his and other security firms are now bracing for another security surge related to the virus, this time protecting COVID-19 vaccinations sites.

The demand has prompted a huge hiring spree by security firms.

The companies often hire ex-military and law enforcement officers, although that background is not required. Most security guard jobs require a high school diploma, but the firms will provide training and coordinate any requirements for certification.

But the security jobs comes with an inherent risk.

“We’ve had people leave the industry cause they don’t feel safe,” Jones said. “They feel like it’s a risky business.”

Ken Bartells has more than 20 years of security experience, and said the industry has changed.

It’s “very different from past years of doing security,” said Bartells, a former member of the U.S. Air Force who is now in Kuwait performing anti-terrorism and force protection work for the U.S. Army. During last summer’s protests, he was in Seattle providing security to protect television news crews.

What it takes to be a guard

But the need for security goes beyond street protests.

“A lot of security is presence, observing and reporting,” Humphries said. “It has been tripled in size because of COVID, civil unrest in Seattle and companies are realizing they need a physical presence when they are not there.”

The skill set for those who want to work as security guards is varied.

“It takes someone who is responsible and dedicated,” Jones said. “You can get trained so you don’t need a background in law enforcement or the military.”

In order to get a security guard job in Washington, an applicant must have a private security guard license; be at least 18 years old; have no related prior convictions; undergo a background check and be fingerprinted; pay an application fee; and complete a training course.

The training course is done by Security Services Northwest and includes eight hours of classroom and field training along with yearly training courses. For candidates who want to pursue a career as an armed guard, they must complete mandatory firearms training.

The job is not for everyone, industry officials say. The position requires resilience.

No one knows that better than Bartells, who was confronted during a summer protest while waiting to meet up with a television news crew. He was looking down at his phone.

“Someone came up to me and was like, ‘Why are you taking pictures?'” he recalls. “I wasn’t taking pictures.”

His answer did not satisfy the crowd that began to surround him before his phone was slapped out of his hand,

“The guy went down to pick it up and that’s when I grabbed him to try and get my phone back and we started wrestling around (while) standing up,” said Bartells, who was hit in the chest with a flag pole, spray painted in the face, spit on and had his neck gaiter ripped off and set ablaze. “I drew my firearm for five seconds (and) told them to get back (and) she dropped the pole. They all got back and i re-holstered” the gun.

Bartells said brandishing his gun was rare and the only time he has ever reached for it.

Turmoil in the ranks

While the recent demand for security jobs has led to new job opportunities, the risks on the job have generated higher turnover.

“Throughout points of this, they say, ‘Hey, it’s not worth it (and) I don’t feel safe going to work,'” said Jones, referring to many guards who have turned in their badges.

Bartells said he did not leave his security guard post to take a position in Kuwait, but that it was a great opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He said he was unfazed by what happened to him.

“It hasn’t affected me really at all,” he said. I’ve “been deployed in war zones all over the world and dealt with a much greater threat than that.”

Jobs for security guard jobs have made the state’s top 25 list of in-demand jobs every month since May 2020. Before that, the profession was absent from the list the previous year.

But there are certain attributes that everyone who makes it in the ranks will have to display.

“It’s a matter of are you OK with standing at a post, observing and reporting,” Humphries said. “Are you OK with using your voice?”

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