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Fasttrack

SHELLY GARCIA Staff Reporter Gregory A. Duncan had a promising career in law enforcement as a member of the Santa Monica Police Department, but something was missing. Too often, Duncan complained, law enforcement is relegated to playing a role after a crime has been committed. He wanted to play a more proactive role. “I’m trying to prevent things from happening to people,” he said. Believing that the field of private security offered such an opportunity, Duncan left the force to found Duncan Security Consultants Inc., a full-service agency that provides security, investigation and other consulting services to businesses and government agencies. In the two years since the Granada Hills-based firm opened its doors, the business has grown to $3.5 million in annual revenues with 175 employees and offices in San Diego and Ventura as well as Granada Hills. After leaving law enforcement, Duncan worked briefly with an acquaintance who ran another security firm. But he soon decided to strike out on his own. He formed his company with about five accounts totaling about $100,000 in revenues, all from businesses he had built at the other security firm. “My strategy was to build relationships with clients, but where the business was going, I didn’t have a clue,” he says flatly. The company’s timing was good. The private security industry has grown to more than $100 billion in revenues in 1997, from $20 billion in 1980, according to the American Society for Industrial Security. By networking with other companies and drawing on his contacts in law enforcement for personnel, Duncan began getting referrals. His clients now include some of the Marriott International hotels, restaurant chains including Carl’s Jr., Fortune 500 corporations such as Atlantic Richfield Co. and government agencies including the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Department of Justice. Unlike law enforcement, which often focuses on the criminal, security firms put the emphasis on the public, Duncan said. “It keeps people from being hurt and it makes for a happy, safer environment and makes things more productive,” he said. But guards, the largest segment of the company’s business, have a poor reputation in the industry at large. Outside security firms have typically filled these jobs with unskilled workers and paid them low wages with few, if any, benefits a practice that has reinforced the generally unsavory reputation of private security guards. Not only does the lowly image hurt the profession, it has kept some companies from using outside guard services. “We’re trying to change the image of security,” Duncan said. Private security work can attract highly motivated workers because it gives them the chance to prevent crimes from being committed, either by using their presence as deterrents, or by actually engaging in activities designed to catch robbers and other criminals in the act, Duncan said. Services such as “robbery suppression” staking out a company when it’s suspected that it has been targeted for a crime although often dangerous, also are quite rewarding, he added. But managing a security business is extremely difficult because of the risk involved. One wrong move can result in accidents and injuries that will send insurance costs skyrocketing. To make certain that doesn’t happen, Duncan Security Consultants pays close attention to hiring and managing its employees, sticking with former military and police personnel, as well as police officers who want to pick up some extra money moonlighting. It also offers benefits and incentives based on performance. Depending on the level of skill required, Duncan security officers can receive up to two weeks of training for a particular assignment, over and above what is required for state certification. Armed guards, for example, may receive instruction in the use of force, first aid, gun handling, public relations and other activities. Training is provided by Duncan and a team of former federal and city law enforcement officers. The staff includes a former member of the Los Angeles Police Department SWAT team and another staff member who once was assigned to protect former Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams. Duncan Security has also instituted an evaluation process that allows the company to keep close tabs on is guards, even though they are stationed in remote locations. The company uses field supervisors, and clients are asked to complete a report card twice yearly. That way, Duncan says, the firm can make corrections before problems arise. Clients say the formal rating system, though unusual for the industry, is consistent with Duncan Security’s overall approach to customer service. “They’ve always responded to every request I’ve had,” said Michael Yanoska, loss prevention manager for Anaheim-based CKE Restaurants, operators of Carl’s Jr. “I find that I get a better range of services because they have more time to provide more personalized attention.” Currently, about 80 percent of the company’s work is security services. The balance of the business includes personal protection services, background checks and investigations such as finding missing children, determining the danger posed when a company or individual receives a threat or locating the source of internal, company theft. “We’re a full-service company, and the reason we’ve gotten there is we have customers who call and say, ‘Greg, can you do this?’ ” Duncan said. The greatest opportunities for growth have come from government military organizations undergoing privatization. The company recently won a contract to provide security services to U.S. Navy military installations, no small feat for an agency that is dwarfed by major, multimillion-dollar players. “If you can control your exposure, you can compete against far larger companies and win,” said Duncan.

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