Is the Security Industry Shooting in the Dark? Lessons from Florida

By Javier Soto, JD, and Reginald Kornegay
Retail Security. Armed S/Os working retail reported the most confrontations that ended with a firearm discharge, a little more than a third of all incidents. It was also the only sector that experienced an armed S/O’s death. These assignments involved armed S/Os patrolling locations like car lots, warehouses, department stores, supermarkets, nightclubs, and restaurants day and night and mostly in high crime areas. For the most part, firearm use resulted from S/Os being attacked immediately as the assailants entered the protected premises, S/Os walking onto a crime in progress, or S/Os responding to an altercation that suddenly escalated.
The DACS incident reports, however, did reveal an alarming habit. Approximately 10 armed S/Os assigned to food, liquor, and retail or department stores used warning shots to try and apprehend shoplifters despite DACS policy prohibiting such action. In addition, during some of the shoplifting incidents, S/Os fired at the car of the shoplifter as it attempted to leave the store parking area. S/Os stated they “feared for their safety” as rationale for firing at cars, but DACS reports detailed little factual descriptions of how S/Os were threatened. In one incident, the S/O’s stated rationale for firing at the car of a fleeing shoplifter was “he wanted to mark the car for police.” The firing of warning shots resulted in disciplinary action against S/Os about 80 percent of the time by DACS and criminal prosecution in some incidents.
Residential Security. Armed S/Os in residential areas experienced the second highest level of firearms discharges, about one in five incidents, during a confrontation. These assignments involved patrolling housing complexes by foot or car. Here armed S/Os, usually working alone, were outnumbered at least 2-to-1 in many “investigative” stops, where they question suspicious individuals. These stops also account for the most incidents where armed S/Os experienced edged weapons, like knives.
Even though residential patrol duties mean a lot of interactions with the public, and therefore more opportunities for conflict, most armed S/Os lacked intermediate and low-level force options—like pepper spray or a baton—that police rely on for managing physical encounters. This may be the reason that residential S/Os were the second highest group of S/Os that resorted to warning shots. Unlike retail settings, where S/Os tried to apprehend the perpetrator, residential S/Os seemed to use warning shots to dissuade individuals from physically attacking them, even if the attacker was unarmed. In one incident, an S/O responded to a domestic squabble in a parking lot by firing five warning shots from his pistol. The S/O was arrested for assault.
In addition, residential S/Os experienced the most “car shooting” incidents. Two issues surfaced here. Many car shootings were found justified because drivers—sometimes drunk—tried to hit S/Os with their cars. But S/Os also fired at vehicles without cause or by placing themselves in precarious positions, like blocking cars trying to leave the premises with their body, thereby bringing disciplinary measures or legal sanctions or both. In one incident, a teenager driving a car through a housing complex refused to stop when requested by S/Os. The guards, claiming the car was aimed at them, opened fire on the car, killing the teenager. Both S/Os were arrested and charged with murder. At trial, the S/Os were acquitted. Their security licenses, however, were revoked. Various civil lawsuits are still pending against the security agency and the residential complex over this incident.
Bank Security. S/Os assigned to bank security experienced the third most confrontation-related firearm discharges. All such firearm discharges occurred as a result of fighting off robberies and robbery attempts. Attacks here involved the almost exclusive use of handguns by attackers and ploys to distract S/Os.
In many cases, S/Os reported observing an individual enter the bank, look around, and leave – then return armed. Once again this shows the use of reconnaissance by assailants before an attack. In addition, these assignments also involved S/Os firing at moving cars. However, unlike the previously discussed incidents, here S/Os fired at moving cars to attempt the apprehension of armed robbers, although some incidents resulted in DACS discipline for public safety issues.
Armored Cars. Lastly, S/Os assigned to armored-car tasks experienced the fourth most confrontation related firearm discharges. Similar to bank security tasks, all confrontations here were related to robberies and robbery attempts.
However, it was not unusual for armed encounters here to involve sustained gunfire directed at S/Os, by multiple attackers, using handguns and long arms. A common theme in most armored car robberies was the use of well-timed teamwork to distract S/Os, during pickups or deliveries, indicating the use of intelligence gathering by criminals to gain an edge by using surprise as a weapon. Some surprise ambushes were so effective that S/Os were disarmed and money taken without shots fired.
But some attacks simply employed brutal tactics—showing a critical challenge these assignments face. For example, in one attack, a van screeched to a halt in front of an armored truck as an S/O filled an ATM machine. Two men wearing ski masks and carrying AK-47 rifles exited the van and opened fire on the S/O at the ATM machine and the S/O sitting in the armored truck. Both S/Os were shot but managed to fight off the attack. One bullet penetrated the armored car and hit the driver. Despite the level of violence demonstrated by such attacks, armored car assignments resulted in very low casualties. Interestingly, no S/O assigned to armored car operations fired warning shots during the eight years this study focused on.
By breaking down the discharges by assignment, we did find some trends. In short, almost all reported confrontations occurred in major urban cities. Second, most S/Os seemed to rely on handguns as the main force option even when the aggressor was unarmed. Third, in all assignments, S/Os fired at moving cars – no DACS policy or Florida S/O training addresses this issue.
Lastly, some confrontations related to specific assignments seemed to differ by region. For example, half of all armored-car-related gunfights occurred in Miami. The Tampa-Ft. Myers area was the locale for the most retail-security confrontations. The Orlando “metro” area experienced the highest number of confrontations related to residential security, but only by 4 percent. Residential armed confrontations were distributed almost equally across the state, showing a unique training need. Approximately 90 percent of all armed confrontations involving bank security occurred in South Florida, split equally between Miami and West Palm Beach. Eight years of data here suggest security operations planning efforts, including liability mitigation efforts for security operations, must adapt and account for regional threat trends that state and other regulatory training standards might not account for. For instance, Miami armored-car guards may require additional firearms training.



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