Out of Control

On the afternoon of July 2, 1992, Paul E. Smith, who had once moonlighted as a private security guard but had since found success as a jazz drummer, went to the Hilltop Mall in Richmond, California, with his wife, Renee, and his baby daughter to do some shopping. Upon leaving Sears, a man in plain clothes approached Smith and accused him of shoplifting.According to a lawsuit Smith and his wife filed in Contra Costa County against Sears and security guard Steve Carey, Smith told the man he didn't steal anything. Then Carey, the plainclothes Sears-employed guard, called for Hilltop Mall security, and Smith was "handcuffed and placed under arrest in full public view." Paul and Renee Smith were escorted to the Sears security office, where Paul Smith was "handcuffed to a railing while the security officers viewed the surveillance tapes in another room."The lawsuit alleges that despite Paul Smith's complaints that his wrists were swelling and sore, security guard Carey "refused to remove plaintiff's handcuffs for an additional 20 to 30 minutes" after the tapes were viewed and "Carey. . . learn[ed] that his suspicion of theft was unfounded."Because he's a drummer, Smith claims the wrist injuries cost him work and three months of physical therapy. In 1994 Sears Roebuck Company settled Smith's civil suit for $24,000.Just the beginningSmith's experience might seem ready-made for a report on the potential abuses committed by private security officers, but though it's a serious incident, it's hardly extreme. According to a national survey conducted by Guardsmark, the nation's fifth-largest private security company, and published in the Lipman Report (a newsletter intended for security management), in 1993 U.S. private security officers committed 38 murders, including 22 shootings, four beatings, and two stabbings; 63 sex-related offenses, including rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation of minors; 29 assaults, including 22 shootings, four beatings, and an assault with an ice pick; 27 thefts, totaling more than $1 million in losses; three abductions; and four counts of arson. Again, that was during 1993 alone.We also learned: * The number of private security personnel, armed and unarmed, has nearly tripled in the last decade, from 450,000 to 1.3 million, according to Dennis Dalton, president of Dalton Affiliates, whom Security magazine calls "the top consultant on the issue of security guards." That means for every public peace officer in the United States, there are at least two private cops.* There is no regulatory body on a national level that establishes, maintains, or enforces standards of conduct for these guards.* To receive a valid Security Guard Registration or "guard card" in California from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) and therefore be eligible for two years to work as an unarmed security officer with an agency or on an individual contract, California law requires only two hours of instruction, an open-book exam on the powers of arrest, and a check of the applicant's state criminal records. Because the course work and exam are left to the discretion of the instructor, one can get a temporary guard card in less than an hour -- one of us actually did. And because the check of criminal records only covers in-state offenses, an applicant convicted of a crime in another state can receive a guard card in California as long as he or she fails to mention a prior conviction.* Guards who work for stores, as opposed to security firms, are not required to have a valid Security Guard Registration as long as they are unarmed, and so do not have to complete any training under state or federal law.* To be an armed guard requires only 14 hours of instruction in gun use and safety and, in California, a fingerprint check with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Eight of the fourteen hours of instruction take place in a classroom, where applicants mostly watch videos. The other six hours involve training at a firing range and the completion of both a written and a range test. The gun permit, also issued by the DCA, specifies the caliber of weapon a guard may use. The DCA, however, does not keep records of what guns a security agency or guard actually buys and uses.* Most armed guards buy their own guns and are subject to the checks and waiting periods of any consumer, but some companies supply firearms at their own discretion. While fingerprints and a bond are held for the owners of security companies (who must also pass written tests to get licenses to run such agencies), there is no public record of how many guns and ammunition a company owns or who it's distributed to.According to Norene DeKoining, a California Department of Consumer Affairs spokesperson:* Of the 140,328 licensed private security guards in California, 20,512 are licensed to be armed. (The Consumer Affairs Department has no record of how many of the 140,328 guards are employed.) Of the 5,836 security guards in San Francisco, 368 are permitted to be armed.* The number of shooting incidents involving private security guards in California (which includes any time a gun was fired at or by a security officer and reported to the DCA) more than doubled between 1990 and 1993.* Approximately 40 percent of gun uses by private guards between 1990 and 1993 were declared accidental or improper by the DCA's Bureau of Security and Investigative Services."We are an unregulated industry with no codes of conduct, [and] one of the things that's pitiful is the [insufficient] amount of training," consultant Dennis Dalton said. "Companies with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets are turning themselves over to someone with 8 to 24 hours of training. When it comes to private security standards, the U.S. is 10 to 15 years behind the rest of the industrialized world."Failure to reformIf consultants within the industry agree that standards for guards need reform, why hasn't there been any? Good question. A 1993 reform bill (H.R. 1534) introduced by Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-California) died in committee. Martinez, who hopes to reintroduce the bill in the new Congress, said that the main objective of the bill, dubbed the Private Security Officers Quality Assurance Act of 1993, had been to make certain that background checks for security guards were at least as strict as they are for consumers under the Brady bill."The real purpose is to do background checks to make sure [the guards] are not felons," Martinez said. "The background check in the Brady bill is only for guys who buy guns in stores. But in many states a guy can get hired by a guard company, receive a gun from the company without a background check, and walk the streets."Opposition to the Martinez bill, curiously, did not come from security agencies or Second Amendment Republicans, but from Democrats who, Martinez said, succumbed to pressure from law-enforcement unions. Several police unions -- led by the National Association of Police Organizations (which PORAC, the Police Officers' Research Association of California, belongs to) and including the Fraternal Order of Police Organizations and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers -- moved successfully to block the bill because, in the words of NAPO executive director Robert T. Scully, the law would have "an adverse impact on the employment conditions of law-enforcement officers."In a recent telephone interview, Scully said that statements made on the floor of the House of Representatives convinced him the bill was "designed to replace police officers" with private-sector employees. "We will not change our position unless it includes our language that the law is no way intended to replace or displace police officers," Scully said, adding, "I honestly don't think the bill will have a chance under the new leadership."Thomas W. Keating, president of Oakland, California-based American Protective Services (APS) and chair of the Committee of National Security Companies Inc. (CONSCO), supported the bill. Keating thinks it's ironic that police oppose the bill. "It's terribly, terribly sad," he said. "I tend to think the average cop was in favor of the Martinez bill.... The problem is, most don't know much about it, and police unions are really parochial and they think it'll threaten police officers' jobs. Of course, that's ridiculous."The idea of guards taking police jobs does seem far-fetched if, for example, you contrast the two groups' respective missions and training. To become an armed police officer, San Francisco 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att, a hilarious comedy duo, show up in avariety of configurations, including the Spudds, a mother-daughter team, andDos Fallopia, a takeoff on women's music acts.Prizes have appeal, too. Besides cash and gift certificates, occasional luckyplayers win "the drag queen makeover": after you win, you go off to get "done"and come back as a drag queen to call the last game. So far, the only two peoplewho've won this prize have been straight men, "maybe the only two who evercame," says Werle. "We couldn't get 'em out of those dresses."Just to make sure that no one forgets the higher purpose of playing, Seattlehas established the Gay Bingo Pledge. At the beginning of each session, Savagemakes everyone stand, hold their daubers in their right hands, and repeat afterhim: "I swear to remember I'm here to raise money for people living with AIDSand this is only a stupid game."

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