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When security guards become the very threat we fear

Updated March 24, 2016

After instances of armed robberies in my area a few years ago, my family had decided to hire a security guard from a private company to guard the house at night.

However, as the night would approach, my mother would sit down to make angry calls to the private security company, complaining that the guard is either asleep or nowhere to be found or has his radio on too loud to hear anyone calling out to him.

Each time, he was promptly replaced by another, who would unfortunately be no different.

In the end, it happened to be one of these security guards, on duty at my house, who opened the gate to let in the men who robbed us on gunpoint. Of course, he had no idea that’s what they wanted to come in for.

This was a case of an incompetent guard who had no training on how to handle such a situation. He may have had a weapon swinging on his shoulder, but very often in such cases, men like him have no training on how to use it.

Explore: School security

When news of this incident spread, friends and family members had similar stories to share about their own experiences with private security guards from various other firms and their failure to protect.

While there exist plenty of security guards who can’t take action in time to save the day, there are also those who take action without any need for it.

Both are dangerous in their own ways.

Especially the kind who don’t think twice before pulling the trigger in a situation where there is no threat to property or life.

The 11-year-old boy shot and killed in Karachi last Sunday night posed no such threat to the security guard who pulled the trigger on him.

The child’s only mistake was that while wearing a ‘monster mask’, he decided to sneak up on a man who had an armed weapon on him. The mistake costed him his life as the guard panicked and opened fire.

Company-based private security guards have, in recent years, joined the list of people and things our children remain unsafe from in Pakistan.

Privately hired security guards had already been making headlines by intervening in family feuds and school boys’ fights. Hired by influential families and often brought to the city by their powerful landlords, these men and their actions are protected by their employers.

But what about those security firms who hire poor men, put a uniform on them and send them out to our homes and schools for protection?

Are they accountable to no one?

A few weeks ago, a first-grader in Lakki Marwat was shot and injured by a security guard at his school. The guard lost control of his gun and pulled the trigger by mistake.

Thankfully in this case, the child managed to survive his injuries.

It’s bad enough that we have gun-trotting men all over our streets and homes, but to have them in schools and then think of them losing control over their guns? That’s any parents’ nightmare right there.

My two-year-old son very happily shakes hands with the security guard who bends down to greet him every morning at play-school while opening the gate. He also excitedly waves out to another guard positioned on the roof with his weapon ready.

When exiting, he says thank you to the guard and walks off waving bye-bye to him. Each time I cringe — as the guard bends down, the weapon on his shoulder sliding closer to us. But to attend a ‘safe’ school, additional security is necessary.

Who is responsible when the additional security turns into the very threat you are scared of?

In all fairness, there have been several instances when these security guards standing at the gates of schools, mosques, shops and restaurants have managed to save the day by coming in the line of fire themselves by trying to stop an attack.

Where their sacrifices are no doubt highlighted and appreciated, they still cannot shield the reality of how untrained most of them are.

Take a look: Security guards’ plight

In an insecure country like Pakistan that’s battling terrorism and crime, these guards will continue being needed by society.

Can’t any checks and rules be established for security firms hiring them? If restaurants can be closed down these days for storing old lettuce and expired ketchup, surely we can manage some checks on security companies also?

Be it their weapons or their training, there has to be some standard set and met on their conduct on our streets and in our homes.

See: School security guard ‘accidentally’ shoots girl

If we are the ones hiring them, then it is also our duty to demand some responsibility and training from the companies employing them.

If things are allowed to continue in the same manner, untrained men on our streets will continue to pull the trigger without thinking twice each time a child in a mask or an unfamiliar animal creeps them out.