Pubdate: Tue, 02 Jan 2007
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A04
Copyright: 2007 The Washington Post Company
Author: Amy Goldstein, Washington Post Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Policing - United States)
Bookmark: (Marijuana)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Some Question the Granting of Police Power to Security Firms

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Kevin Watt crouched down to search the rusted 
Cadillac he had stopped for cruising the parking lot of a Raleigh 
apartment complex with a broken light. He pulled out two open Bud 
Light cans, an empty Corona bottle, rolling papers, a knife, a 
hammer, a stereo speaker, and a car radio with wires sprouting out.

"Who's this belong to, man?" Watt asked the six young Latino men he 
had frisked and lined up behind the car. Five were too young to 
drink. None had a driver's license. One had under his hooded sweat 
shirt the tattoo of a Hispanic gang across his back.

A gang initiation, Watt thought.

With the sleeve patch on his black shirt, the 9mm gun on his hip and 
the blue light on his patrol car, he looked like an ordinary police 
officer as he stopped the car on a Friday night last month. Watt 
works, though, for a business called Capitol Special Police. It is 
one of dozens of private security companies given police powers by 
the state of North Carolina -- and part of a pattern across the 
United States in which public safety is shifting into private hands.

Private firms with outright police powers have been proliferating in 
some places -- and trying to expand their terrain. The "company 
police agencies," as businesses such as Capitol Special Police are 
called here, are lobbying the state legislature to broaden their 
jurisdiction, currently limited to the private property of those who 
hire them, to adjacent streets. Elsewhere -- including wealthy gated 
communities in South Florida and the Tri-Rail commuter trains between 
Miami and West Palm Beach -- private security patrols without police 
authority carry weapons, sometimes dress like SWAT teams and make 
citizen's arrests.

Private security guards have outnumbered police officers since the 
1980s, predating the heightened concern about security brought on by 
the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. What is new is that police forces, 
including the Durham Police Department here in North Carolina's 
Research Triangle, are increasingly turning to private companies for 
help. Moreover, private-sector security is expanding into spheres -- 
complex criminal investigations and patrols of downtown districts and 
residential neighborhoods -- that used to be the province of law 
enforcement agencies alone.

The more than 1 million contract security officers, and an equal 
number of guards estimated to work directly for U.S. corporations, 
dwarf the nearly 700,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United 
States. The enormous Wackenhut Corp. guards the Liberty Bell in 
Philadelphia and screens visitors to the Statue of Liberty.

"You can see the public police becoming like the public health 
system," said Thomas M. Seamon, a former deputy police commissioner 
for Philadelphia who is president of Hallcrest Systems Inc., a 
leading security consultant. "It's basically, the government provides 
a certain base level. If you want more than that, you pay for it yourself."

The trend is triggering debate over whether the privatization of 
public safety is wise. Some police and many security officials say 
communities benefit from the extra eyes and ears. Yet civil 
libertarians, academics, tenants rights organizations and even a 
trade group that represents the nation's large security firms say 
some private security officers are not adequately trained or 
regulated. Ten states in the South and West do not regulate them at all.

Some warn, too, that the constitutional safeguards that cover police 
questioning and searches do not apply in the private sector. In 
Boston, tenants groups have complained that "special police," hired 
by property managers to keep low-income apartment complexes orderly, 
were overstepping their bounds, arresting young men who lived there 
for trespassing.

In 2005, three of the private officers were charged with assault 
after they approached a man talking on a cellphone outside his front 
door. They asked for identification and, when he refused, followed 
him inside and beat him in front of his wife and three children.

Lisa Thurau-Gray, director of the Juvenile Justice Center at Suffolk 
University Law School in Boston, said private police "are focusing on 
the priority of their employer, rather than the priority of public 
safety and individual rights." But Boston police Sgt. Raymond Mosher, 
who oversees licensing of special police, says such instances are rare.

Private police officers "do some tremendously good things," Mosher 
said, recalling one who chased down a teenager running with a loaded gun.

In Durham, after shootings on city buses, the transit authority hired 
Wackenhut Corp. police to work in the main terminal in tandem with 
city police officers stationed on buses.

"There is a limit to the amount of law enforcement you can expect 
taxpayers to support," said Ron Hodge, Durham's deputy police chief, 
who said some of his requests for additional officers have been 
turned down in recent years. Although, as in most cities, some Durham 
police work privately while they are off-duty, Hodge said the demand 
for off-duty police outstrips the supply.

In one of the country's most ambitious collaborations, the 
Minneapolis Police Department three years ago started a project 
called "SafeZone" with private security officers downtown, estimated 
to outnumber the police there 13 to 1. Target Corp. and other local 
companies paid for a wireless video camera system in downtown office 
buildings that is shared with the police. The police department 
created a shared radio frequency. So far, the department has trained 
600 security officers on elements of an arrest, how to write incident 
reports and how to testify in court.

When a bank was robbed in the fall, a police dispatcher broadcast the 
suspect's description over the radio. Within five minutes, a security 
officer spotted the man, bag of cash in hand, and helped arrest him.

Private police officers work across the Washington area, although 
their numbers have not been growing sharply. According to the D.C. 
police department, any private security employee who is armed must be 
licensed as a "special police" officer with arrest powers; the city 
has more than 4,000 of them, including at universities and some 
hospitals. Maryland and Virginia, which have different criteria, each 
have several hundred private police, according to law enforcement and 
regulatory officials.

In Virginia, the Wintergreen Resort has a private police department 
with 11 sworn officers. They include an investigator who last year 
helped solve a string of break-ins along the Appalachian Trail, 
identifying the burglar with images from the department's video 
camera when he drove out of the resort with a stolen car.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services is also trying 
to foster closer ties between security companies without police 
powers and the police and sheriff's departments. The agency has begun 
training and certifying "Private Crime Prevention Practitioners" and 
soon plans to send security companies e-mails with unclassified 
homeland security threats and crime alerts.

Maryland has no similar collaboration, according to the Maryland 
State Police, which licenses security officers. The District is 
strengthening its supervision of security and private police, with 
new requirements for training and background checks having been 
adopted by the D.C. Council.

Some of the most sophisticated private security operations have 
expanded in part because of shrinking local and federal resources. 
The nation's largest bank, Bank of America, hired Chris Swecker as 
its corporate security executive last year when he retired as 
assistant director of the FBI. Even as identity theft and other fraud 
schemes have been booming, Swecker said, fewer federal investigators 
are devoted to solving such crimes, and many U.S. attorney's offices 
will not prosecute them unless their value reaches $100,000.

As a result, he said, federal officials now ask the bank's own 
investigators to do the work, including a three-year probe that 
helped police and the FBI piece together an identity-theft ring that 
defrauded 800 bank customers of $11 million.

In North Carolina, the state Department of Justice requires company 
police to go through the same basic training as public officers. They 
have full police powers on the property they are hired to protect.

Capitol Special Police's owner, Roy G. Taylor, was chief of three 
small nearby police departments and held state law enforcement jobs 
before starting the company in 2002. As Hispanic gangs were 
increasing, he said, "I saw a niche." The company has eight officers, 
some of whom are part time while working for area police departments.

They have used batons and pepper spray but have not fired a service 
weapon, Taylor said. Once, in an apartment complex where they worked 
in nearby Carrboro, Capt. Nicole Howard, Taylor's wife, dressed in 
plain clothes to attract a convicted rapist who had been peering in 
windows and stalking women. Then she arrested him for trespassing.

Today, charging $35 per hour, the firm has contracts with four 
apartment complexes, a bowling alley, two shopping centers and a pair 
of private nightclubs. A few weeks ago, two of the Taylors' 
employees, Capt. Kenny Mangum and Officer Matt Saylors, walked over 
to a car at the nightclub Black Tie to warn the men inside not to 
loiter in the parking lot. Catching a whiff of marijuana, they found 
seven rocks of crack cocaine in the ashtray and two handguns under 
the seat of the driver, who was a convicted felon. They called the 
Raleigh police to handle the arrest.

Because they are part of a private company, Taylor and his officers 
are mindful that customers are billed for the time they spend 
testifying in court.

"I try to make arrests only when absolutely necessary," said Watt, 
the officer who stopped the six men with the open beer cans. The 
company's marked patrol cars, he said, do not have radios to call for 
backup help or computers to check immediately for outstanding 
warrants or criminal records.

After satisfying himself that the six young men, lined up nervously 
and shivering in the cold night air, had no drugs, Watt let them go. 
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