Isn’t a Protection Specialist the same as a Bodyguard?

Yes and No.

You might be confused at that statement so let me explain further. I’m sure this will upset a few people, so before I get too far into this let me say this is not to paint everyone with a broad brush, nor is it to embarrass anyone so I have left out their names. This is to point out that unlicensed and untrained security is a problem.

My point is that as a client, you should do your research before hiring someone to protect your life.

What led to this?

Some time ago we were contacted by a business owner (who I’ll refer to as Mr. Smith) that had a client here in the US. Once I was able to calm Mr. Smith down a bit and gather some details I was able to determine that Mr. Smith had a client that was not at all pleased with the security and drivers that had been provided. Mr. Smith stated that he needed someone to get on the job as soon as possible and fix this situation for him so he didn’t lose a valued client. After gathering a few more details I agreed to go assist his client.

I arrived at the venue where the client was and spoke with one of the drivers who was a young but sharp kid. He filled me in on the details of what was going on, which was the client was not very happy that he had substandard security assigned to him. Later I learned that this client did indeed know what good security was. What I saw was that both security agents were standing out front on the sidewalk instead of at least one being inside with the client. This is already not going well I can see. I meet with the other driver and 2 security and inform them I was sent to replace one of them and help take care of the client, at which point I’m met with bewildered looks. Well, someone hadn’t told these guys they were fired yet, great.

After a number of phone calls confirming that the 2 guys were no longer needed, the second “bodyguard” decides that if his buddies are being fired he isn’t sticking around either, great, I’m on my own. Let’s not leave out the part where all three of them went over to the client and embarrassed themselves further.

Shortly after the driver and 2 bodyguards departed a replacement driver arrived. I met with the 2 current drivers and we formulated a plan, thankfully the new replacement driver had worked for this client before and was able to provide some valuable information. Both of them ended up doing a fantastic job and were a key part of our success.

Once the client was back at his hotel room for the evening I was able to sit down with him and get a full report on what had happened, as well as what he expected. He was well aware of good security procedures, he expected his security to perform only security related duties and nothing else. The one thing he didn’t want was to hear excuses. I was given a copy of his remaining itinerary and was done for the night, well, after the fired security returned with his luggage. I was home by 2am and had an early day ahead. The previous “bodyguards” had done no advance work, had not arranged any dinner plans or made any other arrangements with the venues to be visited. They hadn’t even spoken to the manager at the original venue.

The next morning started at 7am, on the computer looking up phone numbers, addresses, and doing some planning on Google Maps. After a few cups of coffee I was off and running, meeting with restaurant managers, valets, purchasing tickets for venues, meeting with the hotel concierge, then it was time to pick up the client for the day. I had already briefed the drivers on some procedures, they were staged and ready. I met the client and off we went.

The next few days as far as the client knew went very smooth, there were a few minor things I noticed, or the drivers noticed. However the client was in a much better mood and actually started to open up and engaged us in conversation, excellent, he was happy again. On our way to drop the client off at the airport we stopped to get him coffee, he asked me if he could have a minute with the drivers so I gave him some breathing room and observed from a distance. I could see he was thanking the drivers with a handshake and actually smiling. Back on the road the client was quite talkative and out of nowhere he asked if I was prepared to continue the overseas trip with him. I was not, but I was flattered he would ask.

 So why the story?

Obviously I left out a lot of details from that story. Some of those were that the previous “bodyguards” were late picking up the client, and that the client wandered around the airport looking for them. They didn’t know who the client was, or what he looked like. The client actually told me that he watched them walk up to a number of other people asking if they were their client. They made excuses why they were late to pick up the client, then wouldn’t stop making excuses once the client was in the car. What they should have done was apologize and explain to the client that they would not be late again and just shut up.

They were at least in my opinion seriously lacking in skill, or had not received proper executive protection training, however I did get quite the story from them as to how tactical they were. There was no advance work done that I could tell, from all appearances they just got in the car and hoped for the best. They were bodyguards in every sense that most people think of from watching TMZ (Celebrity gossip news). The client actually told me on the first evening, “that was the worst experience with security I’ve ever had.”

So, what is a bodyguard?

Most people think of some 300lb giant from the local gym who shoves people out of the way for celebrities. Unfortunately this is still true today, and it has given the true professionals a bad name. You have all seen examples of them on TV, most recently working for celebrity clients. Example-1 for taking a photographers camera, and Example-2 for not being allowed into Canada for having felony charges for 2 separate assaults. Granted Justin Bieber is by all appearances an out of control client, but the last thing his security needs to be doing is bringing more bad publicity to him. Taking a camera and assaulting people is not the behavior of professional security. Not only that, but how does it make you as a client look, or your company? Do you want your name in the morning paper with a headline that reads, “Client X hires thugs who beat people up.” Remember, who you decide to hire can affect your reputation as well.

It is also every untrained person out there claiming to be something they are not. Just about every security company you find on the internet claims they can provide executive protection. This is especially true here in Florida from my experience so far. The guys I replaced have a bunch of cool pictures of themselves with sunglasses, rifles, and a helicopter, just in case you need that at your next corporate board meeting, charity event, or maybe even when you visit the latest art exhibit.

What is a Personal Protection Specialist?

Many years ago, actually in 1978, the pioneer of executive protection, Dr. Richard Kobetz, decided to stop using “Bodyguard” and started using “Personal Protection Specialist” instead. There are a number of other terms now like Close Protection Officer, Close Protection Specialist, etc. Not only did Dr. Kobetz try to get away from referring to those with formal training as “bodyguards”, he also refined the training to be more in line with working for a corporate CEO or other high net worth people.

Properly trained protection specialists are not only there to protect you from harm, they can protect you from embarrassment as well if you let them, unlike the examples above.

While attending an executive protection course does not automatically make someone and expert in executive protection, it does give them a good base to start. What it also does is give future employers an indication that the person has at the very least received some industry recognized training. And before I go any further let me be very clear, there is NO nationally recognized “certification”. The certificate you get from any of the major executive protection schools are only a “training certification” that you have met that schools training standards.

What about Licensing?

There are 2 states that do have licensing standards for specifically performing executive protection, Virginia and Texas. Those are personal licenses, I’m unaware of any state that has a company license requirement for protection work.

In Florida anyone with a “D” Security Guard License can provide bodyguard services (short term) as long as they have a written letter from their company stating that their “uniform” is suit/tie or something other than an actual guard uniform. The requirements to get a Florida D License are attendance of a 40 hour class on basic security, it teaches absolutely nothing about executive protection.

The other way you can do protection here in Florida is to have a “C” Private Investigator License. Florida does not require any training in Executive Protection for either a D or C License applicant.

In Michigan for example, there are no requirements at all for providing “bodyguard” services. There are requirements for security guard and private investigators, so all you need to do is to get a DBA (business license) and proclaim yourself a bodyguard business.

Do you see what I’m getting at? Your choice in many cases seems to be a security guard or a private investigator, most likely neither of them will actually have training in executive protection. Notice I said “most likely,” I know there are those out there with a D or C License that do have training and experience. You just need to seek them out, ask them about their experience and training. That goes for any state.

What should you as a client do?

  • When looking for a security provider, think of it as an interview for the most important position at your company, it just might be.
  • Are they qualified? I challenge you to start asking security providers to show you what training have they received to provide this service and ask what their experience is. If the company can’t, or won’t provide you with proof they have people that have recognized training and experience, don’t use them. If they do, verify it by contacting the training organization.
  • Is the training they received well recognized? There are quite a few people out there selling “bodyguard” or “executive protection” training that really don’t have a solid background. Check out the training organization as well, is it well respected or just another certificate mill?
  • Are they licensed?  In many states individuals can’t provide security related services without working for a licensed agency. Check to make sure their licensing is current! Think how it will affect you or your company by using unlicensed security.
  • The lowest bidder is probably NOT who you want to hire to protect someones life. The security business is full of those willing to underbid each other just to get a contract, if you want a professional to protect your life then be willing to pay for their services. I can pretty much assure you that the brand name companies that pay their people $20 an hour or less are not providing you with a professionally trained and experienced protection specialist.
  • Contact one of the better known training schools, they are probably well connected to qualified service providers in this business and could put you in touch with someone who is licensed, trusted and qualified.
  • Talk to your peers that have used professional security, I’m quite sure they will tell you if they had a good or bad experience and who they recommend.

So is a Protection Specialist the same thing as a Bodyguard?

Yes, it’s the same thing in terms of what the job entails, or should. In terms of what the general public thinks when they hear the two different terms, no. As an “educated client” you will get much better service, and the risk of harm or just plain embarrassment will be greatly reduced. Also think in terms of cost effectiveness, how much more business will you be able to take care of while security is taking care of other issues for you. Can you assume the risk of possible law suits from negligent, unlicensed or poorly trained security?

Do you want security that will react incorrectly to a threat, or do you want security that has planned to avoid that threat?

Lastly, think about the future implications of the following statements long and hard when you consider hiring security.

  • If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, just wait until you hire an amateur.
  • The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.