Close protection officers (CPOs), or bodyguards, keep clients safe from unwanted attention or physical harm. They are responsible for assessing security measures and providing discreet surveillance. Their work includes:
Threats to clients could come from a range of sources including terrorist organisations, political opponents, stalkers or over-enthusiastic fans. Their clients may also face acute dangers, such as kidnapping attempts. CPOs are often contracted to work for people in the public eye, including:
Specialist duties may include residential security, making sure the client's premises are secure. Some CPOs may train to be chauffeurs, specialising in defensive and evasive driving.
Although much of a CPO's time can involve periods of inactivity, they must be constantly alert and ready to respond to a threatening situation. To achieve this, they liaise constantly with other security professionals. They may work in teams, using specialist communication equipment to maintain contact.
Close protection officers work around their clients' schedule, which will vary depending on the length of contract and their clients' work and leisure activities. Offering 24-hour protection means that this is rarely a weekday nine-to-five job. It can involve early starts, potentially lots of travelling, maybe abroad, and late nights accompanying clients to functions.
CPOs work both indoors and at outdoor venues, such as rallies, political meetings, conferences and premieres. Public outings, such as shopping trips, can be arranged at short notice. Some work in very hostile countries, where risks are high.
When on duty they spend long periods standing in a fixed security position, sometimes seated overnight outside a hotel room. Travelling for long durations in cars, trains and aeroplanes is normal. Frequently, clients ask for a CPO they trust to accompany them on international trips. A CPO on a film set or music tour could be away from home for 18 months, or more.
Close protection officers need a driving licence.
Many CPOs are self-employed and are recruited for short to long-term contracts by agencies. Most are paid an agreed daily rate.
Salaries vary depending on experience, contract lengths and the risk involved, but may start at around £18,000 a year.
There are around 5,000 close protection officers working in the UK. Although demand is steady, there are more applications for jobs than vacancies. Being mostly freelance, employment stability for CPOs can vary. Reputation and experience are important.
CPOs employed by the state are usually specially-trained police officers or military personnel, often from the Royal Military Police or Special Forces. Commercial firms and agencies also employ CPOs on a contract basis. Again, they are mostly ex-police or military personnel.
Most close protection agencies are based in London. However, there is contract work available around the UK, as well as overseas.
Opportunities do arise for experienced CPOs to specialise in surveillance, driving and residential security. Female CPOs are increasingly in demand to accompany and protect celebrities.
Job vacancies are rarely advertised. Contacting security agencies directly is usually the best route in.
All CPOs in the frontline working in England and Wales now need a Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence. It is a criminal offence to operate without one. To get a licence, applicants must be aged over 18 and:
If an applicant has a criminal record, it does not necessarily mean that they will not be issued with a licence. The SIA takes into account how relevant, serious and recent the offences are.
As a background in security planning or decision making is needed, close protection is usually a second career for entrants. People under the age of 21 have little chance of finding employment and successful completion of a course does not guarantee work.
Young people can gain some background experience by joining the Territorial Army or volunteering as a police special. Uniformed services also offer tuition in close protection after basic service has been completed. Police officers can apply to join one of the close protection courses run by National Police Training. This experience will help, but all entrants still need to do SIA-approved training.
A basic knowledge of languages such as French and Spanish can be an advantage.
Training is a combination of on-the-job training and specialist courses, arranged privately or through employers.
Appropriate close protection qualifications include:
People with previous close protection training, which is recognised by the SIA, may be exempt from some of the SIA-approved training. However, all CPOs need to pass the minimum knowledge and practical assessment. The SIA publishes a list of training providers approved by awarding bodies.
Skills and knowledge covered by the qualifications approved for the SIA licence include:
Completion of a close protection qualification approved for SIA licensing will earn students 15 credits towards the foundation degree in Protective Security Management.
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Close protection officers need:
There may be opportunities to progress and lead a team of CPOs on assignment. There are also opportunities to specialise in surveillance, driving or residential security. Highly experienced CPOs may move into risk assessment consultancy work.
Some set up their own companies providing protection services and training courses to commercial clients.
British Security Industry Association (BSIA),
Kirkham House, John Comyn Drive, Worcester WR3 7NS
Tel:0845 389 3889
For careers information about the Military Police visit the local army careers office or website: www.armyjobs.mod.uk
For police careers, contact your local police force or website: www.policecouldyou.co.uk
Security Industry Authority (SIA), PO Box 9, Newcastle upon Tyne NE82 6YX
Tel: 08702 430 100
Skills for Security, Security House, Barbourne Road, Worcester WR1 1RS
Tel: 08450 750111
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.