On the January 20, 2003, between the hours of 5:30 and 6:00 p.m., an armed private security officer (S/O) noticed a man shoplift some food items from the “Kash ‘n Karry” food store he was guarding in the Tampa, Florida, area. As the man left the store, the S/O pursued him and the suspect broke into a run. Blocks into the pursuit a strange thing occurred, the S/O accepted a ride from an unnamed motorist who wanted to participate in the chase. Coming upon the suspected shoplifter again, the S/O vacated the vehicle and confronted the suspected shoplifter. The suspect began to run again. The S/O had enough of the pursuit. He went for his gun and fired a warning shot into the air from his duty-issued .38 caliber revolver. The alleged shoplifter dropped his loot and fled. The S/O retrieved the left-behind items and returned to the store. After the incident, the S/O was relieved of his duty gun, relinquished his security and gun licenses at the request of the state licensing officials, and the contract guard agency terminated the S/O for violating Florida law, licensing statutes, and his client’s wishes that S/Os not pursue shoplifters.
While incidents like the above are definitely unusual, occurrences where armed S/Os irresponsibly or mistakenly fire their weapons, unfortunately, may occur too often in Florida. These incidents help bolster the common perception that armed S/Os do not have enough experience and training to responsibly determine when to administer deadly force. In an effort to test whether or not that perception was justified, we studied reported licensed S/O firearm discharges in Florida from 2001 to 2008. Our study found perception might match reality more often than most would like to admit. When armed S/Os discharged their weapon in Florida, our study suggests that too many firearm discharges have been undertaken recklessly or accidentally, and sometimes contrary to the state’s use of force laws.
Shooting From the Hip
When armed S/Os discharge their weapon in the state of Florida, the incident must be reported. From 2001 to 2008, there were approximately 167 firearms discharge reports filed with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
(DACS), the agency responsible for regulating the state’s private security industry. Analyzing those incidents where an armed S/O discharged a weapon, we determined whether the discharge occurred due to a confrontation or an accident. We further broke down confrontations into security assignments across five mission types: retail security, residential patrol, bank security, armored car operations, and other. (We did not count incidents in the “other” category toward our study since they were infrequent. Incidents here included administrative violations by S/Os—such as wearing guns when not allowed by law—shooting at dogs or wildlife when fearing attack, and other minor incidents not involving people being hurt). Of the firearm discharges recorded, excluding the category of "other," about 50 percent were accidental or irresponsible, even reckless.