Private guards on the spot over lax screening

What should normally happen when you walk through a security check-point at the entrance to a supermarket, hotel or bank? You remove your phone and keys and place them on the side but in your pockets, you have a few coins which you didn't declare; and then you walk through the metal detector frame, then the device screams but the guard is unbothered.
Men walk through a metal detector at the city market in downtown Kigali yesterday as two security guards look uninterested. 
(John Mbanda)
Men walk through a metal detector at the city market in downtown Kigali yesterday as two security guards look uninterested. (John Mbanda)

What should normally happen when you walk through a security check-point at the entrance to a supermarket, hotel or bank?

You remove your phone and keys and place them on the side but in your pockets, you have a few coins which you didn’t declare; and then you walk through the metal detector frame, then the device screams but the guard is unbothered. They hand you your keys and phone and let you proceed!

This is what happens at most busy premises in town that, under safety regulations, are supposed to be equipped with security gadgets (which most have) but guards who man them appear to be sleeping on the job.

Findings by The New Times paint to a worrisome picture at a time when the world is calling for preparedness to counter growing terrorism threats.

At the Nyarugenge market in Kigali, our writer encountered a disturbing level of security laxity by guards at the complex with about four main entry points.

Each entry is manned by two guards, a male and female.

At one gate, the female guard was perched atop a table where visitors are supposed to place their items as they go through security check.

The writer placed his phone and keys in the side basket and deliberately walked through the metal detector with coins in a pocket.

The warning beep went off but, instead of ascertaining the cause, a guard simply handed over the phone and keys and continued with their conversation.

The writer stood aside and watched many people walk through unchecked in spite of the endless beeps and red flashes by the security device.

It was only one entry out of the four that had guards who were truly on-guard; unfortunately their efforts were being let down by their colleagues.

At the Chinese Supermarket 2000, the guard here, the writer noticed, was checking men but not women. When asked, he said that he didn’t have authorisation to touch women.

Meanwhile at Kigali City Towers, the main entrance to Nakumatt Supermarket, a female guard looked on as the writer walked through the security frame; she handed over the phone and gestured her clearance this in spite of the fact that the machine had flashed red.

At Eco bank main branch, the guard is equally off-guard.

The writer also checked out Union Trust Centre (UTC), one of the busiest premises in town housing shopping malls, restaurants, an MTN service centre, and many others.

The guards here looked tired and bored and didn’t bother, possibly overwhelmed by the hundreds of people who go in and out of the bustling place. With tiredly arms, they hand you the bag and gesture to you to proceed. It was the same case at Equity Bank, Kisementi branch.

What’s wrong?

That property managers have invested in expensive security gadgets which are now being rendered redundant by guards is a matter of concern to public security.

While Rwanda is not a victim of recent terror attacks that affected Uganda and Kenya, experts say that, this is no cause for laxity.

The writer’s last check was Serena Hotel, Kigali. Here, the experience is different, the checking is thorough and started at the gate where each car that enters is checked for possible concealed weapons.

On the main entrance, the guard demands that visitors declare all metallic elements and hand them over.

After walking through the security frame, the guard then runs a hand held metal check on the body focusing on the areas where the machine detected metals.

Meanwhile, the bags are also opened to ascertain contents and once everything is satisfactory, the person is let through. This is done using a baggage/luggage scanner.

The problem at most premises, the writer noticed, is that many a guard simply don’t care to respond to the alerts given by the machines.

In other cases, it was observed that the guards seem to ignore people who look more serious and formally dressed, they just assume, those are harmless.

At other places, male guards shy away from touching females even when there’s no female guard to do the job.

In the afternoons or late in the evenings, the day has taken a toll on guards and many, too tired, just relax on the job.

The New Times tried to find a comment from top security firms in Kigali including Top-security, KK and Agesporo. Only Robert Muyango, the Managing Director of Agesporo, was available for comment by press time.

“Your observation is a valid one and I will attribute it to several factors without necessarily naming names,” he said.

Muyango believes the main problem is that guards at these busy places are overworked, poorly paid and have no interest in their jobs.

“Manning a place for 12 hours at a busy premise is not easy and many of these guards are tired, I recommend that they shouldn’t be at one spot for over eight hours,” he opined.

Muyango adds that at most places, it’s a case of poor supervision of the guards to ensure that they do what they’re supposed to do.

“Otherwise all these guards are trained on the rightful use of these security gadgets. They know what to do,” Muyango whose firm specialises in VIP guards said.

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A security guard checks a car at the entrance of the UTC building in Kigali yesterday. (John Mbanda)

Guards who are recruited are mainly former soldiers who have at least acquired a minimum level of secondary education.

How do metal detectors work?

Ephrem Kanamugire, the chief security manager at Kigali Serena hotel, gave the writer a crash course on how guards are supposed to do their job.

“First we have three main devices used, a walk through metal detector (shaped like a doorframe), a hand held metal detector (baton like device) and a luggage scanner, these are the common ones,” explained Kanamugire.

Kanamugire says when a person walks through a metal detector, any metallic substance on them is sensed and the precise points on the body where those metals are; it then gives out a loud beep while flashing red for the guard to follow up.

“When you are clean, the machine is silent and it normally shows green,” Kanamugire said.

But where a beep is given and red lights flashed, the guard should follow up and retrieve the metals to be sure there are no concealed weapons. It’s that follow-up role that most guards are, unfortunately, not doing.

At Serena, there’s also the luggage scanner that most hotels should have to check guests’ bags. According to Kanamugire, the luggage scanner can detect both metallic and non-metallic elements, including powders.

“It’s connected to a computer monitor and the security expert reads and analyses the elements and inform his course of action,” he said.

The writer noticed that most premises in town do not have luggage scanners, which Kanamugire says cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At such places, guests simply place their bags on the side basket, walk through and retrieve them in some places; the guard might check the bag but in most cases, the writer noticed that, especially hand bags for women went through unchecked.

Concern

These are the gaps, expats note that can be exploited by negative forces to hurt Rwandans and other members of the public who frequent those places.

“Security is expensive but carelessness even more costly, that’s why security managers must always ensure alertness,” says Kanamugire.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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