California lawmakers set the stage today for potential broad changes to security guard regulations, asking tough questions about enforcement and oversight of the state’s growing security guard industry.
The Sacramento hearing is part of an ongoing review by the Joint Oversight committees of the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, the agency that licenses and oversees the largest security guard population in the United States.
During the hearing, bureau Chief Laura Alarcon fielded questions about firearm training requirements, mental health screening for armed guards, and bureau enforcement and investigations.
“Especially in light of the serious nature of the business you regulate and control, greater steps should be taken to ensure the public is protected,” the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee’s co-chair, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, told Alarcon.
Hill noted recent Reveal reports that uncovered inadequate investigations of security guard shootings, lags in discipline, and poor screening of security guards and companies. In one case, after a security guard shot an unarmed teenager in the jaw, the guard admitted he was traumatized by the experience. But the bureau failed to interview the guard and allowed him to keep his license.
At the hearing, lawmakers asked about the cost of requiring mental health examinations for armed-guard applicants as well as guards who shoot their guns, a requirement that “would create significant cost to the bureau and may increase the processing times for firearm permits,” Alarcon said.
Hill also asked Alarcon to respond to a Reveal story published earlier today that found that the bureau has allowed dozens of companies to continue operating after regulators discovered abuses of power or evidence of mismanagement or fraud, including one company owner who simply obtained a new license under his wife’s name.
Alarcon said she had not had time to closely read the article, but that “all indications are that the individual was not still involved in the business,” Alarcon said.
“Evidently that person was in the business,” Hill replied.
Several lawmakers questioned Alarcon about the bureau’s investigation and monitoring of security guard shootings.
Alarcon told lawmakers that since July 2014, the bureau has received 54 reports of violent incidents involving guards, including 24 shootings. But current law calls for companies and guards to self-report any firearm discharge or use of force by a guard.
“That’s like my driving down the street, calling the police and telling them I’m going 69 miles per hour in a 65 mile-per-hour zone,” Hill said. “I don’t believe in self-reporting as the solution.”
Alarcon said the bureau is looking at ways of eliciting more reports from law enforcement agencies.
The bureau investigates every report of a violent incident involving a guard, she said, but cannot take immediate action against a guard, even if the guard imperils public safety. If the bureau decides to take action, the guard or company can retain a license for months or years while the case proceeds slowly through the bureau’s disciplinary system. The bureau also can act after a conviction, another slow process that can take years.
“If there’s a police officer that’s in a shooting, they go on desk duty. They are removed from duty pending the outcome of an investigation. And that doesn’t occur here,” Hill noted. “Those individuals can continue to go about their business without a suspension.”
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.