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Use of bodyguards going middle-class: Individuals, firms see security needs

By Pam Slater
Bee Staff Writer
(Published April 3, 2000)

They're not famous. They're not wealthy. They're just scared.

Someone is threatening them. Or they are merely too frightened to venture out into the world alone. They need someone to watch over them, a professional protector.

Today, bodyguards are not just keeping an eye on celebrities. They are being hired in greater and greater numbers to protect ordinary people.

It could be a local builder involved in a controversial project or a company vice president embroiled in a labor strike.

And in a world of increasing workplace violence, more and more companies are hiring bodyguards to protect managers who have fired hostile employees.

"When people think of bodyguards, they think of the movie stars and they think of the CEOs," said David Barrett, president of Northwest International Investigations & Protective Services in the Sacramento area.

"But by far, most of our work is in other areas. If you did just that, you'd starve to death," he said.

The bodyguard business in the United States is steadily growing. The number of "personal protection agents" has doubled to about 15,000 since the late 1980s, according to Dr. Richard Kobetz, president of the Academy of Security Educators and Trainers.

"If you are talking about people who are under a stalker's threat or a high level of threat, that's one thing," said Kobetz, who is also president of the Academy of Security Educators and Trainers, a trade group.

"But there are an awful lot of (bodyguard) escorts now for people who want to go into a major city to have dinner," he said. "They hire (bodyguards) to be escorts for the night ... and they are willing to spend the extra money to assure they have a safe and secure evening."

Barrett, an ex-Marine and retired robbery/homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, specializes in hate crimes, stalkers and workplace violence.

More than half his business is devoted to protecting the lives and property of those who fear their one-time employees.

Working in two-person teams, the bodyguards post themselves outside the angry employee's former place of business and wait to see if he or she makes good on the threat. They rarely do.

Barrett said the mere presence of security personnel will thwart the ill will of the vast majority of would-be attackers.

And it is not always ex-employees that threaten the workplace.

Not long ago near Woodland, an angry ex-boyfriend threatened to kill his former girlfriend at her work site, Barrett said.

He and one of his employees had been there for three days when the man showed up.

"He starting getting a little hostile, a little huffy and was starting to shoot his mouth off. He started to pass us like we weren't anything," Barrett recalled. "We put him down on the ground, handcuffed him and called the police."

The ex-boyfriend wasn't carrying a weapon, but police found a gun in his car.

That's about the most excitement Barrett has had so far in his three years in business. He's never had to pull his gun from the holster.

If the job is done well, he said, there should be no dramatic confrontations, no near misses and, certainly, no wild shootouts.

"I'd like to tell you it's a lot of excitement, but people have watched too much television. It's kind of mundane," said Barrett, a self-confessed adrenaline junkie. "I've been told that I'm doing exactly nothing. That's right. We don't get paid for what we are doing most of the time; we get paid for what we have to do in a split second."

It usually comes down to finesse and a gut feeling honed by years of law enforcement training to know what it will take to defuse a particular situation.

"I've never had a client touched. I've never even had a client embarrassed," he said.

At 5 feet 9 inches tall, the silver-haired Barrett isn't the hulking mass of muscle that many people envision when they think of a bodyguard.

"A lot of people picture a bodyguard as somebody who is huge. There is a call for those kind of guys mainly because of their high visibility," he said. "A lot of entertainers go for that look."

But Barrett and his staff cultivate more of a Secret Service look.

"I've been told that I look like CIA or FBI because we wear trench coats. And we do a lot of suit and tie stuff. It is like being a chameleon. You wear whatever the situation calls for," he said.

Barrett employs between 15 and 20 people, mostly men, all of whom are retired law enforcement officers who possess concealed weapons permits and state credentials.

Barrett is licensed by the state Bureau of Security and Investigative Services and is also licensed as a private investigator.

His fees range from $40 an hour up to about $125 an hour. He also bills for expenses.

He runs the business out of his house in Nevada County but spends most of his time working for clients in and around Sacramento.

One recent case involved a Sacramento attorney whose picture had been published in a magazine. A California state prisoner saw her photograph and became obsessed with her. He sent her an e-mail to let her know that he was being released and decided to visit her.

"It was really crazy. We were with her for three days before we heard from him again," Wise said. And it was several more days before he actually arrived at her place of business. But they caught him and arrested him for violating the restraining order she had gotten.

"He wasn't out even long enough to meet his parole officer," Wise said.

Bodyguards don't just guard people at the office. They go where the client goes.