Confused about whether You Need a PSO Card or a Guard Card?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one who is confused about when you need to register as a PSO and when to register as a security guard. Do you need the PSO Card or the Guard Card? Both? Neither? The table below is a quick recap of which card you need.  After the table we explain in detail the differences between PPOs, PSEs, security guards and PSOs. The government sure likes acronyms! And after reading all this, you decide you’re a security guard, not a PSO, please visit our sister website dedicated to security guard requirements in California.

Security Guard PSO
Type of security ID card you must carry Guard Card PSO Card
You must also carry a picture ID authorized by the BSIS Yes Yes
If armed you must also have a valid exposed firearm permit or baton certificate Yes No, because you can’t carry a baton or firearm as a PSO
Hours of training required 40 16
Training and application fees Higher Lower
Type of on-going training required 8 hour refresher course every year 2 hour continuing education class every year
Registration / license renewal Every 2 years Every 2 years
Type of employers you can work for PPO, PSE or multiple PSEs PSE or multiple PSEs
Fingerprinting and background check required Yes Yes
Wear a distinctive uniform at work Optional (Required only if you are an armed guard) Yes

Two Types of Security Employers: PPO and PSE

First, you need to understand the types of security employers that exist. The Bureau of Security and Investigative Services (BSIS) has different requirements for different types of security employers in the state of California. The type of security employer a company or person is determines how much training they need, how much experience they need and insurance they need to be able to hire security personnel. The type of security employer also determines the types of security personnel they can hire and whether or not their security officers can be armed or only unarmed. The two types of security employers are:

  • Proprietary Private Security Employer. Also known as Private Security Employer or PSE. A person or company has to meet fewer and less strict requirements to become a PSE. It also costs less to register as a PSE. A person getting a PSE license doesn’t need to have experience in providing security. Many PSE companies exist because they only need a small number of security officers and don’t need the flexibility to assign their security officers to various job locations and posts. A PSE can never employ an armed security officer. A PSE can hire both PSOs and security guards.
  • Private Patrol Operator. Also known as PPO. A person or company has to meet more and stricter requirements to become a PPO. It also costs more to get a PPO license. A person getting a PPO license needs to have experience in providing security. Many PPO companies exist because of the flexibility they have in the assignment of security officers to various job locations and posts. A PPO can employ armed security guards, if the PPO and guards take additional firearm training and have firearm permits from the state. A PPO can only hire security guards.

You can check for valid PSE and PPO licenses online at the BSIS License Verification page.

Two Types of Security Employees: Security Guard and PSO

Second you need to understand the types of security employees that exist. The BSIS has different requirements for different types of security employees in CA. The type of security employee a person is determines how much training they need and whether or not they can be armed with a weapon.  The two types of security employee are:

  • Proprietary Private Security Officer. Also known as Private Security Officer or PSO. A person has to to take less training (16 hours) to become a PSO. It also costs less to register as a PSE.  A PSO needs to take a continuing education security class every year. A PSO may NEVER carry a firearm or other weapon on the job even if they have additional training and a firearm permit from the BSIS. A PSO always wears a distinctive uniform that clearly identifies them as part of the security team. A PSO needs to carry their PSO Card and a valid photo ID card authorized by the BSIS.
  • Security Guard. A person has to take more training (40 hours) to become a security guard and get a Guard Card. It also costs slightly more to become a security guard. A security guard needs to take a refresher course every year. A security guard may carry a firearm or other weapon on the job only if they have additional training and a license from the BSIS. Most security guards are unarmed as opposed to armed. A security guard may or may not wear a distinctive uniform that identifies them as part of the security team. A security guard must wear a distinctive uniform if they are carrying a baton or exposed firearm. A security guard must carry a photo ID authorized by the BSIS with them as well as their Guard Card.

You can check for valid Guard Card and PSO Card licenses online at the BSIS License Verification page.

Why not One Type of Security Employer and One type of Security Employee?

At first you might think that it would be easier if the BSIS only had one type of security employer and one type of security employee. However, having different classifications for security employers and security officers, lets companies and people get the credentials that are right for them without having to spend lots of extra time or $$$.

It’s like the difference between doctors and nurses. Both provide health care services, but the amounts of time, education and money it takes to become a nurse are a lot less than to become a doctor. Hence, it takes less time, training and money to become a PSO or PSE as compared to a security guard or PPO in CA.

And don’t forget, that you can also be a PI in California, but we don’t talk about PIs here. Private Investigators have different BSIS licenses requirements than security guards and PSOs.

Guard Cards and PSO Cards FAQs

Q. I have a California Guard Card, do I need to get a PSO card too?
A. NO. The CA State Guard Card allows you to work for any PSE or PPO.

Q. How can I upgrade from my PSO Card to a Guard Card?
A. The two cards have different training requirements, application forms and application fees. Hence, you will need to take the additional training requirements for becoming a security guard, fill out and file the security guard card application and pay the guard card application fee. If you have been recently fingerprinted in order to get your PSO card, you should be able to use these Live Scan fingerprints for your guard card application. Please contact the BSIS for further information on how to upgrade your card as there aren’t specific BSIS guidelines for this process. (800) 952-5210 or (916) 322-4000.

Q. How can I change from my Guard Card to a PSO Card?
A. Once you have a CA Guard Card, you probably want to keep it as it gives you more job opportunities. However, if it is time for your Guard Card renewal, you can take the PSO training and register as a PSO. Please contact the BSIS for further information on how to go from being a security guard to a private security officer as there aren’t specific BSIS guidelines for this process. (800) 952-5210 or (916) 322-4000.

What should You Read Next?

  • If you want to find out about the PSO application process, read How to Become a PSO.
  • If you want to find out about private officer training requirements, read PSO Training.
  • If you have more questions about security officers, read More PSO FAQs.