Providing personal security and transportation services can be lucrative but high operating costs and strict regulations must be considered.
Because of the nature of the livery business, providing personal protection services seems to be a natural extension of it. With celebrities, political leaders and high level corporate executives as regular passengers, there is an expectation that passengers will be kept safe while traveling.
The fact is, chauffeurs have a natural tendency to want to protect their passengers but may be limited in their ability to do so unless they are professionally trained and carrying a weapon.
Professional bodyguard chauffeurs
Kurt von Strasser, owner of Limolive24.com, a third party dispatching service for limousine companies, formerly operated a service that provided armed chauffeurs. Von Strasser recommends hiring off-duty or retired police officers. Obtaining a permit known as a CCW (Carry Concealed Weapon) can be as simple as registering or taking a one-day class. But it is no substitute for the training a professional bodyguard or law enforcement officer receives, says Gary Johannesen, a California Highway Patrol officer who also works as a chauffeur for Limousine Scene in Bakersfield, Calif. [the company owned by this writer].
There are a variety of bodyguard training companies nationwide that offer various courses ranging from four days to one month, but the fact is, the cost for training is high and all industry sources interviewed for this article prefer to hire off-duty or retired police officers that already have the needed training and required permits — and the experience.
The decision to arm one of your chauffeurs is not one that should be taken lightly, advises Joseph H. Cummings, CEO of A Elegant Transportation Corp. of Island Park, N.Y. Cummings says that laws vary among locations, and although he has a license to carry a weapon in the state of New York, that same license is not valid in New York City where only generally active or retired law enforcement officers may carry a concealed weapon, Cummings says.
It is for this reason that Cummings only hires law enforcement officers to work for his company so there is no issue when traveling into New York City. “Clients generally feel safer knowing their protective chauffeur is a former or current law enforcement officer,” Cummings says.
States regulate the issuance of CCW permits. Some of them delegate the authority to local law enforcement agencies — such as from counties, cities or towns — to issue their own CCW permits.
Reciprocity laws vary among states, so knowing the laws in your area is important, von Strasser says. Some states readily issue CCW permits with little or no training while states such as Illinois and Wisconsin prohibit any private citizen from carrying a concealed weapon. There is tremendous liability in allowing your chauffeurs to carry weapons, von Strasser says.
This sentiment was echoed by industry livery insurance expert Phil Brun of Kiely, Hines & Associates Insurance of Louisville, Ky. You must have complete faith and trust in your employee, knowing if your employee pulls his weapon and fires it, the liability will extend to the company.
“One hot-headed, ill-tempered chauffeur having a bad day faced with the wrong agitator or a misplaced round could end your company, and if you are not incorporated, possibly your personal financial life as well,” von Strasser says.
A recent warning from the Limousine Association of Houston to its members about carrying weapons at airports underscores the importance of employing armed chauffeurs who are reliable and responsible, and heed all rules. “We have been asked by Houston Aviation Systems to remind you that private bodyguards with concealed carry permits may not go through security into the Secure Identification Display Area (SIDA),” LAH president Joe Jordan wrote to his members in an e-mail Sept. 17, 2010. “The only persons who can carry weapons in the terminals are Houston Police Officers and federal agents.”
Jordan continued, “If your clients feel, for whatever reason, they need that level of security, then you should hire an off-duty, uniformed HPD Officer for the purpose of escorting them from the gate to your Town Car. This is SOP for celebrities and they are used to being charged for the privilege.”
Your general liability insurance is unlikely to cover claims that involve someone being shot by your chauffeur while acting as a bodyguard unless the insurance company knows in advance that you have engaged in the personal protection industry in addition to being a livery service, says Carol Bean of TWIW Insurance, a California broker serving the private security and chauffeured transportation industries. Bean says you must disclose such information on your application for coverage.
The cost for additional insurance is quite hefty, says Cummings, who has 22 years of experience without a single claim or incident, but still pays high premiums. “My advice would be to have a working relationship with a local armed security firm and offer their services to your clients if they are willing to pay for it,” Brun says.
“Your auto insurance isn’t going to be of any help and the majority of general liability policies are not going to provide coverage for your armed employees,” Brun says. “It would be advisable to procure a general liability policy for armed security if you choose to allow your employees to carry firearms.”
Associated operating costs
The insurance isn’t the only significant cost of offering personal protection to your clients. Employing professionally trained bodyguards will add a serious expense to your payroll. Cummings pays his armed chauffeurs $50 per hour for their services. Cummings also buys base model SUV vehicles and modifies them to include armor plated bodies, bullet-resistant glass, and “run-flat” tires. The cost to modify a vehicle is estimated to be about $100,000, and a single run flat tire is $1,200, he says. Because of the additional weight placed on the vehicle during the armoring process, the brakes and shock absorbers must be changed along with other parts to compensate for the heavier weight of the vehicle. This is a huge equipment investment for an average of 10 to 20 assignments a month in Cummings’ operation.
The demand for business was extremely high in the years after 9/11, but as industry revenues declined in the recent bad economy, so did the demand for protective services as corporate budgets shrank, Cummings says. A search on the Internet reveals that most limousine companies that offer such services are based in large cities such as New York, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. When asked how he markets his company, Cummings says he relies solely upon his web site to promote it, and believes people seeking such services will use the Internet to find one near them.
SIDEBAR: Client Expectations
The need for personal protection can vary from death threats against a person to a celebrity that just doesn’t want to be mobbed by fans while clubbing, Cummings says. There are high-level executives who fear being kidnapped and held for ransom, and who want the peace of mind knowing someone is watching over them.
Assignments can include that of a typical limousine trip to a higher level of personal protection requiring the chauffeur to stay with the client at all times and keep people away, Cummings says.
In this case, the chauffer is considered a personal bodyguard, and the services of protection and transportation are billed by the hour and separated by their respective functions, he says.
While Cummings says he has never had an “incident” other than an overzealous fan that crossed a security line to get to his client, he knows about the expectations and emphasizes that bodyguards must keep a keen eye out for potential threats and avoid them. Clients want someone close by but not so close that they become intrusive or part of the party, group or function.
But the chauffeur/bodyguard needs to be close enough to react swiftly to any potential threat or act. The client wants to have a game plan in advance of where the car will be and what exit to use in an emergency. There are signals to indicate a potential threat or the need for an immediate evacuation.