Neighborhood crime watch blotters on social media regularly post doorbell videos of thefts and burglaries, the mayor of Rochester issued a gun violence emergency in the city and the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce says crime is negatively impacting businesses.
Which explains why Armor Security and Protection Inc. has seen a significant surge in requests for services.
“With how brazen criminals have become, with lenient sentences and bail reform, and with understaffing at RPD (Rochester Police Department), it’s been the perfect storm,” said Eric Fuehrer, vice president for the Rochester-based firm. “It’s been eye-opening this year how critical security is. It’s important for individuals to feel safe.”
Just two years ago, Armor Security employed around 75 security professionals. Today, there are around 200 employees, and the firm expects to have a workforce of 250 by year’s end after onboarding seven more clients.
Founded in 2013 by Larry Donk following a nearly 22-year career with the Irondequoit Police Department, Armor Security provides security personnel for commercial and industrial clients, residential, educational and healthcare communities, and events.
Auto dealerships, drug stores and manufacturing facilities have found the presence of security staff — during business hours or after hours — to be a deterrent, Fuehrer said. When there was a rash of catalytic converter thefts in Monroe County, a car dealership hired Armor Security to patrol at night. It solved their problem.
“If there are five stores in a row and my guy or girl is standing out front, the criminal is going to take the path of least resistance,” he said.
You can’t miss their security personnel, either. Instead of the traditional black, gray or white button-down shirt, they’re wearing a neon yellow pullover.
“You can see them from a mile away,” Fuehrer said. “There’s no mistaking what the guy or girl is.”
Only about 10 to 15 percent of Armor’s security staff is armed, and they handle jobs where there is the potential — however slight — of violence, such as religious gatherings. For the majority of the staff, their presence serves as a deterrent, and in many cases they’re also keeping watch over property and safety systems.
“Our people observe, report and communicate,” Fuehrer said. “We’re not tackling people, we’re not handcuffing people, we’re not tasing people. We’re the eyes and ears; we’re the human camera.
“But it is exciting work. The old stereotype of feet up on the desk, reading a newspaper with a cup of coffee is not what it’s about.”
There are more than a dozen security firms in Rochester, including nationally prominent agencies Allied Universal and Securitas USA. Armor Security has found a niche in Rochester as well as Florida, and is considering expansion into Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Ohio.
Armor ended up in Florida at the request of a client and is now looking to expand operations in the Sunshine State as well.
Like many other firms, regardless of the field, finding qualified applicants isn’t always easy, however. A good percentage of employees are off-duty or retired law enforcement officers or former members of the military.
Fuehrer said they also use “guerrilla” recruiting. When a member of the organization comes across someone — in any field — providing exceptional service, they hand out a business card with a QR code and the message “You’d be a good fit. Let’s talk.”
Security work doesn’t require a college degree, and there isn’t a long list of prerequisites. The most important asset, Fuehrer said: high-quality customer relations.
“I can teach security to anybody,” he said. “It’s the customer service aspect we look for.”
That’s not just for the sake of the client, but it’s also a handy on-the-job skill. Security personnel, like police officers, get to know perpetrators.
So a little small talk with a suspected shoplifter gets their attention. “They know they stole something last week, and they know we know,” Fuehrer said. By being proactive and engaging in conversation, he said, the suspected shoplifter is very aware they’re being carefully watched and likely will just leave.
Armor’s training also includes how to handle situations that could boil over.
“I do not want a confrontation that is likely to escalate,” Fuehrer said. “We do a lot training on verbal de-escalation.” The only time physical confrontation is allowed is when the security officer or someone on site is in danger of being attacked, he said.
Armor Security’s clients are spread out over several sectors, but around 70 percent are in three areas: residential properties make up 30 percent, retail 20 and manufacturing 20.
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