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VOL. 123 | NO. 209 | Friday, October 24, 2008

Local Crime Fuels Thriving Security Sector

By Tom Wilemon

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COLLATERAL BENEFITS: Tom Givens opened Rangemaster Training Center in 1996. The business has grown steadily because of the high crime rate in Memphis. -- PHOTO BY TOM WILEMON

The typical customer at Rangemaster firing range is not who you might think.

“About 40 percent of our customers are female, which is way above the national norm,” said owner Tom Givens. “Most are professionals of some sort. They are doctors, accountants, lawyers, service managers, sales professionals.”

Helping people protect themselves is a big business in Memphis, a city that consistently ranks at the top of the charts for violent crime. Rangemaster Training Center serves almost as many customers as it can accommodate.

Firms that provide security guard services are perpetually hiring. And people are continually exploring new security options for their homes, businesses and neighborhoods, security experts said.

It’s difficult to gauge the numbers for what is probably one of the city’s best growth sectors.

However, about 7,100 people worked as private patrol officers or for security system services in greater Memphis in 2007, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The figure does not include security guards who worked directly for employers in other lines of business, such as hospitals or manufacturers.

“That number would be definitely on the low side of the total employed in security services for the area,” said Milissa Reierson, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Labor.

Memphis crime statistics 2007
Homicides:    129
Forcible rapes:    451
Robberies:    4,869
Aggravated Assaults:    7,603
Source: FBI Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Report

Handgun Permits
Shelby County:    29,544
Tipton County:    2,791
Fayette County:    2,325
Source: Tennessee Department of Safety

Hiring a personal security guard is not an option for most people. More are choosing to carry firearms for personal safety. In Shelby County, 29,544 people had handgun permits as of June 30, the latest reporting date from the Tennessee Department of Safety. That compares to 13,119 in Nashville.

Right to bear arms

Rangemaster opened in 1996, the year the state began allowing private companies to conduct training sessions for handgun permits. Givens invested $500,000 to convert an old racquetball court at 2611 S. Mendenhall Road into a firing range.

Business has been steady ever since. Rangemaster has trained more than 25,000 students since it opened.

“Forty-seven (of the 25,000 students who have completed Rangemaster training) have had to use a gun to defend themselves,” Givens said.

The instances of justifiable homicides in the city last year almost tripled the number from 2006, Givens noted.

Thirty-two justifiable homicides occurred in Memphis during 2007 compared to 11 in 2006, according to press reports.

Rangemaster’s training programs vary from a basic personal protection course for $99 to a $399 “Magnum” membership, which includes free shooting lane usage, discounts on gun rentals and other perks. After completing the personal protection course, customers can receive the required certificate to apply for a permit to carry a handgun.

Givens advises that no one buy a handgun before they complete a training program.

“There’s not one gun that’s right for this or that, and gender doesn’t come into it,” he said. “It’s more hand size and overall body size and that sort of thing. We really strongly encourage people not to even think about buying a handgun without going through a class. To us, it’s just like buying a car without knowing how to drive.”

So little time

There are other options for increased security. Neighborhoods are pooling resources for patrols services. Several homeowners in Central Gardens pay a monthly fee to Phelps Security Inc. for periodic checks on their properties.

Residents of another Memphis neighborhood are considering installing integrated computer and remote video technology for extra security. ESI Companies Inc. is marketing SkyCop to the neighborhood, said company president Warner Speakman, who declined to identify the neighborhood.

SkyCop takes photographs of vehicles and records license plates. Vehicles belonging to residents will have decals on the front and back windshields.

“This is a large block of homes, 300-plus, where there are four or five entrances,” Speakman said. “Each entrance will have a computer intelligence that says this will be a car that should be going in here or not going in here. It will snap a picture of the car and take down the tag. If something happens during the window of time of the car being in and out of this area, that care will be of interest to police.”

People who prefer the old-fashioned security of a gun keep Givens and his 12 employees busy. Rangemaster has some sort of training session booked every day.

“The reason we don’t do more business is because we run out of days of the month,” he said.

PROPERTY SALES 83 405 4,276
MORTGAGES 104 424 4,814
BUILDING PERMITS 148 883 10,151
BANKRUPTCIES 53 264 3,149