Private security guards at big festivals may have unverifiable licenses

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — As 75,000 music fans descend on Zilker Park for the second weekend of the Austin City Limits music festival, KXAN is asking questions about the qualifications required for private security officers hired to patrol the gates and keep guests safe.

You see staff wearing security shirts at the festival entrance, but what can be said about the people wearing them?

KXAN received a tip from a man who worked for one of the private security companies last weekend. He said he was not background checked, nor is he licensed as any kind of law enforcement or security officer. That tip brought up important questions about the requirements necessary to properly secure a major festival.

How can the public be assured that the security officers are properly licensed or trained?

The city of Austin issues the permit for the festival, and the state of Texas regulates private security companies, with a publicly searchable database of those registered through Texas Online Private Security, or TOPS.

According to the city of Austin, the list of agencies on site at ACL includes:

  • Austin Police Department, both on-duty and off-duty officers
  • Department of Public Safety troopers
  • W3 Security
  • 5 Star Security

The two private agencies, W3 Security and 5 Star Security, are both registered with the state.

However, as outlined in the Texas Administrative Code, private security administrative rules say the license requirement is for the guard company or its manager. It does not specify that individual guards or security employees hired by those companies also be required to be licensed.

DPS representatives told KXAN Friday afternoon there are still requirements that the company must comply with related to the individual. Those requirements were not explicitly clear, meaning there appears to be no way to verify if individuals wearing security shirts at ACL are licensed through public sources, although companies are licensed.

“Having them labeled as security, I mean, that can make some people feel like safer, I guess,” explained Adrian Trevino, another ACL attendee, visiting the city from Harlingen.

“I feel safer with them around,” said Danielle Porras, who’s attending ACL this weekend. “I trust that we’re here in a good city and if anything was to happen, that there’d be proper safety.”

Both of the private security companies at ACL list qualifications for employees on their websites.

Houston-based 5 Star says it required a Texas non-commissioned guard card for their security officers. In order to obtain that card, training is mandated by the state. The company also requires a clean background check.

Austin-based W3’s policy is not as clearly marked online. According to their website, the security staffing company provides “premier State Registered event security teams, featuring qualified & fully licensed security personnel, security managers, directors, and event supervisors for all event requirements.”

“There’s that worry that something could happen, but you have to think positive and try to have a good time,” said ACL festival-goer, Art Garcia, also of Harlingen.

Matthew Jansonne, another attendee told KXAN, “Added security’s a bonus and it’s really just you can’t live in fear.”

KXAN reached out to both private companies for interviews, but were told “no comment.” We were then referred to ACL, but never heard back regarding our inquiries.

Austin Chief of Police Brian Manley said they have added more officers around the festival, in response to the tragedy in Las Vegas.

“There will be a large number of officers in a very concentrated area at this festival. Actually, from that perspective, it’s going to be the safest part of the city to be in during both weekends just because of the sheer number of officers that will be present,” Manley said last week during a media briefing.

For more information about training courses and requirements of officers, visit this DPS website.

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