Private security companies across the U.S. operate on a massive scale. They employ more than a million men and women – nearly twice the number of trained police officers. And their ranks are growing.
In many states, it’s easier to become a security guard than a manicurist.
Reveal reporter Shoshana Walter worked with CNN to uncover chaos in the armed security guard industry. Companies have hired felons and people with mental health issues. They have hired former police officers accused of abuse.
There are horror stories from nearly every state, and they all point to the same issue: an industry lacking oversight and accountability.
- Few states require mental health exams
On a humid night in June 2012, armed guard Lukace Kendle arrived at Miami’s Club Lexx to begin his shift. He later told police that he noticed two men in a pickup truck rolling into a parking space next to his, wearing “a lot of red clothing, which was suspicious.” Kendle claims that one of the men threatened to kill him, so he opened fire, killing one and paralyzing the other. Neither was armed.
After police arrested Kendle on murder and attempted murder charges, psychiatrists diagnosed him with a variety of mental illnesses. Neither regulators nor Force Protection Security, his employer, had performed a psychological screening during his application process; Florida, along with dozens of other states, does not require them.
- From bad cops to bad security guards
Only one state in the nation checks whether applicants with law enforcement backgrounds were fired because they screwed up. And even there, in Oregon, no one has been denied a security guard license because of a questionable law enforcement record.
In October 2009, Deputy Kentae Greene was fired from the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office in central Georgia. Greene, who had a long history of misconduct at the department – “erratic and threatening” behavior and a “very hostile and violent demeanor with inmates,” according to internal affairs documents – ultimately was let go for “fraud, falsehood, perjury and malfeasance.”
Despite his blemished disciplinary record, Greene easily found work as a “courtesy officer” at a nearby apartment complex. There, he routinely drew his gun and engaged in physical altercations. On Sept. 11, 2012, he shot a man to death.
- No background checks
While working as an armed guard for Arizona-based Valley Protective Services in 2009, security guard Joshua Kosatschenko opened fire on 18-year-old Daniel Tarango after Tarango and a group of friends shoplifted three bean-and-cheese burritos, a bag of Cheetos and some Hot Pockets from a Tucson Circle K convenience store. One of Kosatschenko’s bullets tore through Tarango’s back, paralyzing him from the waist down.
Kosatschenko, then 19, had been prohibited from possessing firearms. He had a juvenile rap sheet: assault and possession of a deadly weapon when he was 11; aggravated assault with a deadly weapon when he was 13. Because state regulators did not review these records – “We figured this kid would know he’s not supposed to have a weapon,” one official told Reveal – Kosatschenko’s disciplinary history never came to light when he was licensed as an armed guard.
If you buy a gun from a licensed firearms dealer, you have to go through a background check to determine whether you have lost the right to bear arms. But more than half of the states do not check the same federal database for armed-guard applicants.
Kosatschenko went on to become Valley Protective Services’ hiring manager and a corporate trainer, according to his LinkedIn account.
- Public left in the dark
Thirty-eight states do not require security companies to disclose when employees have fired their weapons, even though the same mandate is enforced for law enforcement officers. In states where such a requirement does exist, follow-up efforts are inconsistent and sometimes even concealed.
This was the case when Teng Xiong, an employee of Golden Dragon Patrol in Sacramento, California, pulled out his gun late one evening in 2008. When he and his supervisor began fighting with two young men who refused to leave a parking lot after business hours, Xiong pulled himself out of the scuffle and aimed his gun. At the urging of his supervisor, he fired once into the mouth of 19-year-old Randy Hernandez.
Xiong, who’d received a firearms license two years earlier, wasn’t contacted by California’s Bureau of Security and Investigative Services following the incident. A similar shooting involving a police officer would have triggered a pre-prescribed series of events – investigations by the agency’s internal affairs department or the local district attorney’s office. But no such investigation took place. Xiong never faced any charges; his bosses invited him back to work.
- Data paints a stark picture
Across the U.S., regulations for armed guards are patchy and inconsistent. Thirty-nine states do not check whether armed guards are prohibited from possessing a firearm. Only four states require applicants to pass a mental health examination. And a whopping 49 do not check whether a potential employee has a troubled history in law enforcement.
In 12 states, the training hours required to become a professional manicurist dramatically surpass those required to become an armed private security officer. The disparity in Alabama is particularly pronounced: Manicurists there undergo a total of 750 hours of training, while guards complete 12 – eight for basic procedures and four for firearms.
This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath and Nikki Frick.