Nightclub bouncers and security guards employed directly by bars and clubs in New Jersey are unregulated and need no training before they are hired.
A state law that went into effect two years ago requiring employees of security companies to register with the State Police and take 24 hours of training does not apply to security personnel employed directly by bars or other venues.
Some state legislators and State Police officials are trying to change that, but so far, they have been unsuccessful.
Two weeks ago, 10 or more people - some with "Security" and "Event Staff" on their T-shirts - were videotaped outside the 40/40 Club in Atlantic City kicking and punching at least two men. Since then, three club employees signed complaints against two of the patrons.
City police are investigating, but no one on the security staff has been charged. On Friday, attorney Thomas Mallon of Freehold said he filed a lawsuit against the club on behalf of Bryant Norwood, one of the customers.
The 40/40 Club fracas followed similar confrontations between bouncers and club patrons in the state over the past several years.
Under the state law that took effect two years ago, all employees and owners of external security firms have been required to register with the State Police. Security guards carry IDs that show they have been vetted by police and have been trained by an authorized instructor. No one convicted of a crime in the fourth degree or higher, or of possession or sale of a controlled substance, can be approved. The employing security firms also must be licensed.
But bouncers and other security personnel who work in-house for private clubs do not have to register or undergo training. They must comply only with rules covering all employees of a venue serving alcohol, which simply requires the names and details of employees to be submitted to the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Employees must declare past criminal backgrounds, but may get an exemption to work.
State Sen. Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, Morris, Somerset, Essex, in 2004 co-sponsored the Security Officer Registration Act, which put in place those controls for security firms. Since then, State Police officials report that at least 25,000 security staff have been registered and trained.
But in 2008, Kean said he spoke with contacts in law enforcement who put the situation bluntly: The regulations fail to cover a large chunk of the work force.
"They said to me, ‘Do you realize there are basically two different silos at work here?'" Kean recalled in an interview last week.
In January, Kean introduced a state Senate bill to amend the original legislation, requiring anyone performing a security guard function to be registered. All security guard applicants would have to submit to a 24-hour initial training course and biannual refresher classes, as well as fingerprinting and a full criminal background check under the proposed law. Successful applicants would carry a card identifying them as a security guard.
Detective Sgt. Jim Bryan, who supervises the State Police unit that oversees regulations, said he thinks club and bar bouncers who are clearly uniformed or wearing clothing marked "security" would fall under the proposed law.
"To my mind, if you're working full-time as the gatekeeper, then you're a guard," he said. "Not if you're sweeping floors in between tearing tickets. But if you're restricting access - if someone were to shove through and you're preventing them, then you're working in security."
Kean's legislation reflects that. While the 2004 law defines a guard as including anyone whose job is to prevent unlawful or unauthorized activity, Kean's bill includes anyone who prevents access or entry.
Other legislators have attempted to update existing laws. In 2008, Assemblywoman Joan Quigley, D-Hudson, Bergen, co-sponsored an Assembly bill specifically including workers who provide "the maintenance of order and safety at athletic, entertainment or other public activities."
She said the original legislation was shaped to exempt businesses that hired their own full-time security.
Her 2008 bill did not reach a vote, and she did not reintroduce it in the 2009 session because, she said, "I had not heard of more abuses, of guards not behaving well."
Kean, whose amendment this year was referred to the state Senate Committee for Law and Public Safety and Veterans Affairs, blames a year of emergency discussions about state finances and the added pressure of an election year for his bill go nowhere. "It just sat," he said. "It was never discussed."
Both Quigley and Kean plan to reintroduce versions of their amendments to close the loophole for in-house security in 2010.
Bryan, of the State Police, said that so far this year there have been 30 investigations into security firms of all types that are covered by the law, and hundreds of unannounced license inspections. But since the law leaves many guards unregulated, there is little data about whether bouncers who are involved in incidents have benefited from training.
James "Thor" Thornton, who trains potential guards through his Thor Security Consulting firm in Pennsauken, believes anecdotal evidence shows that violence can be prevented through careful education. "Training works, period," he said. In his experience, he said, guards of all kinds can learn to de-escalate an "overwhelming number" of incidents that would otherwise become violent.
Some of the new crop of casino-run clubs in Atlantic City have committed to training their in-house security staff. Noel Stevenson, a spokesman for the Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa, said the 280 security staff who work in-house, including at their clubs mur.mur and Mixx, are required to attend training.
But local bouncers say attempts to regulate the industry would hit opposition if bouncers have to pay fees for their own training.
Doorman Steve Hill says the reality in the network of local bouncers is that most are in-house, poorly paid and cannot afford optional training.
Hill, 29, works the door at the Atlantic City Bar and Grill, where he spent a recent Wednesday night filtering patrons between the bar area and the party with a DJ upstairs.
In seven years of bouncer work, he said, he has found many of his jobs by word of mouth. Hill said he has never joined an external security firm, so the security guard law never affected him. He said his only training has come from his hobbies, such as martial arts.
In Atlantic City, police said they are considering charges against the 40/40 guards caught on videotape. But since photos of staff are not kept with the employee list for the ABC, investigators have had a slow and difficult process identifying the names of the pictured bouncers.
"We understand all of them work for the 40/40 club," said police Sgt. Monica McMenamin. As for what the uniforms say about the guards' designated role at the club, she said, "We're trying to see what the shirts mean."
Ivan Shaq Ramos, who was a uniformed bouncer at the club, said Thursday he and another bouncer were fired after the taped incident.
- The state has no training or regulation requirements for club bouncers.
- Attempts to regulate club security staffs have died in the Legislature.
- Some bouncers have no training at all.
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