LAST EDIT May 24, 2023
Will a Criminal History Keep Me From Getting a Security Officer License?
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As the author of the Unarmed Security Prep Guide and as the administrator of The Security Officer Network, here's an example of one of the more common questions I get.
I want to work security, but I've got a felony. What can I do?
I thought it might be a good idea for me to create this article to answer the question as best I can, and then, in the future, I can provide the link to this video to those who ask me this question.
So, will a criminal record keep you from getting a private security license?
So obviously, this varies by state. Each state has their own rules. I am not going to be able to answer for all states.
But stay tuned to the end of this article for a link to your state's specific regulatory entity so that you can find out how things are in your state.
First things first. Let's take a look at the process. Just because an applicant has a criminal history doesn't mean they will be automatically disqualified from consideration.
They will be required to disclose the criminal history, and if they don't, it will probably be uncovered in the background check that many states require as a condition of licensing.
Then the government employee who reviews your application will likely make a decision on whether or not you should be disqualified.
If your application is rejected, you will likely still have the ability to appeal the decision by going before the board that oversees the application process in your state.
Now that we understand the process, let's consider the types of offenses that are most problematic.
Minor offenses, especially those committed a long time ago, may not automatically disqualify an applicant. However, more serious crimes, particularly those involving violence, dishonesty or a breach of trust, could pose a significant barrier—especially if they were committed in recent years.
However, a state probably can't just ban any and every person with a criminal record from obtaining the ability to practice an occupation—including security. That's because there is case law in which judges have declared blanket bans to be unconstitutional due to the Constitution's "equal protection clause." Courts require states to recognize the differences in fitness and character of people with felony records and prevent states from making "irrational distinctions" between felonies and misdemeanors. To comply with the judges' interpretation of the equal protection clause, the state must consider the circumstances of the felon's life including rehabilitation, age at time of conviction, and other mitigating circumstances related to the nature of the crime and his participation in it.
For example, in Florida, an application will be denied if the applicant has been convicted of a felony during the previous 10 years. Felons must have had their civil right restored for a period of ten years before the state will consider moving forward with an application. Additionally, the application may still be denied if the applicant has been associated with certain types of crime ranging from trespassing to kidnapping. Or even if they have a tendency to exhibit lack of good moral character. To this extent, the state will ask the applicant if they abuse alcohol or have other substance abuse problems.
So, in Florida, a person with a criminal past, including a felony, can get authorization to work security, provided the crime is at least 10 years in his past. Essentially, the applicant should prepare to make the case that their criminal history is in their distant past and they have built a proven history of demonstrating a commitment to adhering to legal and ethical standards.
So, perhaps the applicant is unsure if his application would be successful. No one wants to pay the fees, take the training and go through the bureaucracy only to be rejected. If this is you, here's a neat suggestion. Ask your licensing entity if it provides a criminal history pre-screening process. This allows applicants to submit their criminal history to the regulatory department and allows the department to conduct a pre-determination of if they would or would not reject the applicant. This helps the applicant to avoid all of the hassle of submitting an application that's going to be rejected.
Also, if you have been denied before, do keep in mind that policies change. For example, in 2020 California laws were amended to require state authorities to "provide an opportunity" for a "second chance." The state's licensing board didn't anticipate that this would have much of an effect on their number of denials but those who have been rejected by the state's board might find that circumstances have now changed and should consider re-applying.
Of course, these changes go both ways. Maryland's newly updated statutes contain a reference to the applicant's history of "use of force." It's perhaps targeted at police officers and may reflect that state's policymakers' particular leanings towards potentially disqualifying police officers who have been fired from police departments for use of force issues.
As promised, here is that link to each state's regulatory agency. To learn more, navigate to your state agency and find their handbook or list of regulations and application form. Here you can likely review the specifics of your state.
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