Former Sheriff’s deputy raises the bar on private security


In his time in law enforcement, Ryan Woodford had his share of encounters with private security.

As a police officer and Sheriff’s deputy, it wasn’t uncommon for Woodford to be called to assist private security firms with situations they were unequipped or unqualified to handle. And though he enjoyed being on the front lines, the Grand Rapids native couldn’t help thinking some of these situations could have been handled without police assistance if the security officers had a little more training or experience. So, Woodford decided to start a company that could provide seasoned and professionally trained security services and, in 2014, established Charlesbrook Protection Services.

“Initially, I wasn’t even looking to become self-employed,” Woodford said. “But I saw a spot in the market for more professionally trained officers.”

Though he had no prior business experience, Woodford worked to spread the word about his company, handing out business cards, cold calling local companies and introducing himself to as many people as he could to get word of mouth going. He met with several local organizations, including Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and Experience Grand Rapids, and credits those meetings for helping guide him in the right direction early in the process.

In spring of 2015, Charlesbrook had its first security contracts and word of mouth spread even quicker. Woodford’s handpicked staff comprising of veterans and former police officers was providing a highly professional and efficient service, and organizations began to take notice.

When finding employees, Woodford said he likes to hire former military personnel because the level of discipline typically is much higher than civilians. But the first thing he looks at when taking on a potential employee is integrity.

“That’s paramount in working for us, because they’re given access to areas the general public doesn’t have,” he said. “If you don’t know all the technical aspects, we can teach you security. But we can’t teach you integrity and make you trustworthy. The people on my staff are people I would personally have over to my house.”

Currently, Charlesbrook has 15 employees, all trained either by Woodford, who also was a certified training officer while working at the Newaygo County Sheriff’s Office, or another trainer. There is an order of succession, similar to a military or police outfit, and Woodford said when working a site, he or another supervisor will always be on hand to manage the employees.

Woodford finds the current regulations for working private security substandard. Whereas the owner of a security firm has to be properly licensed through Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, the requirements to hire guards are largely up to the bar the employer sets.

“How high (firms) want to set that bar is up to them, but we set it as high as we can,” he said.

Woodford said it’s deeply important for him to operate a business that he can be proud of but also one that is well respected in the community that he grew up in. He said the goal of the company isn’t just the number of contracts or the bottom line but making a difference in a city that helped support his goal of starting a business.

“I could have started anywhere, but I chose to start here because I love it here and this is my city, it’s where I still live,” he said. “It’s gotten bigger, but Grand Rapids still has that community feel, and it’s something I love being a part of. And when you see a city growing so much and making so many positive changes, and you’re a part of it, it makes you feel good. You feel like you’re giving something back.”

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