SAN FRANCISCO, March 17 (AFP) - The slowdown in the dot-com industry is booming business for Silicon Valley's private police firms, called in to quell potential uprisings by angry, sacked new economy workers.
"Dot-com layoffs have kept us busy," said Alan Byard, a branch manager for San Francisco Security Services, a private security firm based in San Mateo, California, the heart of Silicon Valley.
Byard said the company, staffed in part by off-duty cops from neighboring cities, used to do one "walk-out" every other month.
"Now, we're doing about six a month, and it looks like we'll exceed that rate next month," he said.
A "walk out" is industry lingo for escorting potentially trouble-causing axed employees from the premises. Many dot-com firms will ask for the presence of security guards as a prevention measure, believing a programmer might forgo causing a scene when he is under the watchful gaze of a burly security guard.
According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 35,000 dot-com workers have been sacked since December, with 66,000 pink-slipped in the last 15 months, victims of a once-booming industry that's lost investor and consumer confidence.
"We've been really busy," said Duane Davis, manager of investigative services for Protection Experts of Mountain View, California. "Dot-com companies, or what's left of them, are getting to be our best clients."
Davis said his company is doing about eight walkouts per month, with that number increasing by the week.
"Their pain, unfortunately, is certainly our gain," Davis said.
Firings usually fall into two general categories, with fired employees either given the day to say their goodbyes and pack their belongings or being forced to leave the premises immediately.
"They're given a box, and we have someone stand next to the desk waiting," said Davis. "That's just how the employer wants it."
Most dot-coms ask imported muscle to dress in plain clothes, to fit in with the laid-back image the companies try to present, Byard said.
Both Byard and Davis said most new economy employees depart peacefully, the result of good severance packages and a resignation that the industry is not what it used to be.
"You don't see them kicking up too much of a fuss," Byard said.
An occasional high-decibel exit, replete with threatening emails to the boss, or an epithet-laced, rowdy departure speech by a disgruntled former staffer, galvanizes the security staff, though Davis said "it's been pretty civilized, so far."
Police departments in Silicon Valley also report dot-com workers are heading off quietly into the California sun.
"Nothing out of the ordinary, just the occasional threat and maybe a stolen laptop or two," said Sergeant Steve Dixon, a spokesman for the San Jose, California police department.
"Let's hope it stays that way."