The level of professionalism and calibre of security guards has come under closer watch of late. DEVID RAJAH and LAM LI discover an industry not making an effort to tackle training, recruitment and manpower shortages to lift its image after three decades.
EARLIER this month, thieves using portable blow torches, struck at night in a commercial complex in Glenmarie, Shah Alam. They cut open the steel door of an ATM machine and carted away RM80,000 under the noses of security guards on duty. The guards only discovered the break-in the next morning.
In Kepala Batas last month, a 63-year-old jaga slept through while thieves broke into a secondary school computer laboratory and whisked away RM137,000 worth of computers and accessories.
In Kuala Lumpur early this month, car thieves stole seven cars in a guarded apartment in just one night. It was not the first car theft there. Residents of the apartment had earlier made repeated complaints to the management about the alertness of the guards.
One resident group said it had terminated on three occasions the services of companies providing security guards for the same reason.
“Most of the security companies do not give a satisfactory service in terms of providing trained guards who can patrol the 300 houses regularly and screen vehicles entering the housing area,” explained USJ 20 Residents Association committee member Dr Lim Chong Hooi.
The level of professionalism and calibre of security guards in this country has come under much scrutiny in recent times.
“Right now they are either overage pensioners or people who don’t know how to respond during emergencies, robberies and fires,” said Deputy Home Minister Datuk Chor Chee Heung.
He said the time had come for security guard companies to change their image and inject more professionalism in the industry.
According to Maybank Group assistant vice-president of security Ismail Kamil Tajol Aros, while the majority of security guards in Malaysia were overage, many were also underage with a good number of them illiterates or primary school dropouts.
“Apart from the ex-servicemen who join security guard companies there is no formal training for them unlike in advanced countries where guards are known as security officers.
“There is no career path for our local guards and it is often considered a lowly-paid job with the basic salary starting from RM265 per month,” said Ismail Kamil whose organisation employs over 1,600 guards to watch over 400 bank branches nationwide.
“Due to a shortage of manpower some companies even force their guards to work 72 hours at a stretch,” he said.
Ismail Kamil, a former deputy superintendent of police, said armed guards were paid a basic of between RM1,200 and RM1,500 as they had the knowledge to handle firearms, while unarmed guards were paid poorly.
“In Britain, a guard is known as a security officer who is able to carry out risk assessment, conduct corporate reception tasks and a host of other duties and it is considered a profession with career paths,” he said.
Ismail Kamil, who worked in Britain as a security officer, said the priority given to security management services was low here compared to other countries.
Ideally, security guards must be able to investigate frauds internally, assess risk prone situations, control riots and respond during emergencies like fires and robberies, as well as a host of other demanding tasks, he said.
In Malaysia, the terms pak guard and jaga have long been synonymous with security personnel and they reflect a traditional perception of their role - that of the overage watchman.
In the pre-independence era, it was a common sight at the five-foot way of a financial institution or business premises to find a big, strong Sikh sleeping on a charpoy (Punjabi wooden bedstead) at night to watch over the property. In the day, the friendly Sikh stood guard greeting walk-in clients with his charpoy propped against the wall.
The title “jaga” aptly described his function.
Today’s scenario, however, is a far cry from the peaceful and slow-paced society when petty theft was the only crime to watch for, said Malaysian Security Services Providers Association (PPKKM) president Datuk Rahmat Ismail.
“We are living in a far more dangerous environment now, criminals come in all forms and sizes aided with sophisticated means from IT gadgets to powerful firearms,” he said.
Perhaps, the scale of risks in modern living is reflected in the premium charged by insurance company on security service operators.
Rahmat’s company – SRT-EON Security Services – paid RM360,000 in premiums this year compared to RM85,000 last year to obtain a blanket coverage for its operations, including insuring the transportation of cash up to RM5mil per carrier, group personnel safety, goods and consignments undertaken by the firm.
“Among the reasons cited for the four-fold increase was the impact of the Sept 11 incident. We are indeed dealing with a high-risk profession but generally speaking, there is a lack of security awareness among Malaysians.
“While the western countries place security services as their top priority list, our clients here put it at the bottom.
In a paper entitled “Security Management in the New Millennium” presented at the National Security Professional Forum in 2000, Home Affairs Ministry under-secretary Hamzah Md Rus said firms were unwilling to pay even reasonable wages to security personnel who were made to work unrealistic shifts in order to save costs.
PPKKM readily admitted that the security industry, which has over 300 operators employing about 150,000 personnel, was far from being professional.
“Even with such relaxed recruitment requirements – as long as one is physically fit and below the age of 60 with no criminal background – the industry is still facing a manpower shortage of between 20% and 30%.,” Rahmat said.
“We need a security academy like other countries which treats security personnel as a supplement to the police force, to be the eyes and ears for the authorities to maintain social security.''