The most disconcerting statistic revealed by our analysis is the frequency an armed S/O’s firearm “just went off.” Accidents, defined as the negligent discharge of a firearm, accounted for over a third of all discharges, which strongly suggests a weakness in firearms training.
Data collected showed that S/Os accidentally fired their guns 38 percent of the time from 2001 to 2008. However, viewed annually, this matter was more pronounced. First, we found that reported accident discharges sometimes outnumbered reported confrontation discharges annually. In our experiences, such data suggests deficiencies in training, discipline, and oversight–a serious liability matter. Second, that there was a high rate of accidents involving revolvers—which are a simpler kind of firearm than a semi-auto pistol—gives credence to our opinion of a training deficiency. Third, data suggested that close to half of the accidents occurred during the loading/unloading process—whether using a revolver or a pistol – a training matter. Fourth, some accidents occurred during “operational tasks,” such as drawing the gun to have it ready as directed by policy.
For example, in all three accidents involving shotguns deployed during armored car “docking” operations, S/Os slipped, tripped, or stumbled while carrying the shotgun “at the ready,” with their finger on the trigger and the safety off—which is not done in policing. More perplexing, however, was that about 50 percent of the accidents occurred when S/Os were bored and decided to check their gun, clean their gun, move their gun belt around, dry-fire, show off their gun, take the gun apart, practice quick draws, or unload or load their gun while on post—a potentially dangerous habit. In one incident, a supervisor directed various S/Os to dry-fire due to “down time,” resulting in an accident. All were disciplined by DACS. Interestingly, most accidents were explained by S/Os as the gun firing itself—despite evidence to the contrary.
More worrisome, DACS reports showed that some accidents were disclosed only after supervisors found bullet holes in cafeteria refrigerators, employee room walls, bathroom stalls, office computers, post surroundings, and even a bleeding dog walking around a protected housing complex. Further inquiry often led to S/Os confessing that they did not report the accident for fear of losing their security and gun licenses as well as their job. In other incidents, it was documented that the S/O begged witnesses not to report the matter.
For comparison purposes, the following are some of the statistics we found regarding law enforcement “accidents.” Armed S/Os do not fare well. First, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office in California, which has 800 deputies, reported no accidental discharges in over 5 years in 2006. Additionally, a study of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), which has over 32,000 officers, who have constant access to their firearms, unlike S/Os, reported 24 accidents in 2005 and 26 accidents in 2006. In our police experience, on-duty accidents involving firearms are usually the result of weak training and lack of discipline and supervision.
While police agencies, in general, have made remarkable progress in updating firearms training, private security has not—unless regulatory mandates were enacted that is. In New York, for example, 47 hours of peace-officer-firearms training was mandated for all armed security officers due to public safety concerns in 1997. The New York Legislature regulated training because of concerns that the security industry would not do it unless required to. That skepticism seems warranted. Gaining management support for line personnel training can sometimes be a major financial challenge in the private security industry, according to armored car companies we spoke to who requested anonymity. Nevertheless, more intensive, and therefore expensive, training is a necessity for armed S/Os.
After reviewing the shooting reports discussed herein, we found the following differences between private and public sector training in Florida for carrying a firearm in public as a duty:
- Twenty-eight hours of training is required for an S/O firearms permit, although only 8 hours of range training is required, usually shooting the “Practical Pistol Course” over and over for a minimum of 144 rounds. Florida police training mandates 80 hours of firearms training. Also, “judgment training” for S/Os involves discussing scenarios in a classroom - a method of training found inadequate for police in court cases.
- Firearms qualifications frequency is only once a year for S/Os. Most police forces moving toward accreditation have moved toward “qualifying” twice a year with revolvers and four times a year with pistols because of public safety concerns.
- Armed S/O training requires a total of 68 hours. Police curriculums, offered at Florida community colleges, demand 770 hours of total training, including 98 hours on patrol and 69 hours on legal issues. Defensive tactics, physical fitness, and other issues are also covered.
Based on the above, S/O training is far less demanding than police training. Two problems therefore face the private security sector as it moves to fill more aggressive roles post-9/11. First, the differing training and licensing standards among the 50 states only serve to promote conflicts that allow litigators to pit one standard against the other, confuse trainers and S/Os, and mislead employers about risk management for various assignments. For instance, some residential security posts may require training in handling domestic disputes as first responders. Second, armed S/Os have the responsibility to judiciously exert authority over the liberty and life of the public at large. Basic negligence and tort principles demand comparable skills to other armed professionals plying their trade in public, especially when managing similar risks.
Analyzing eight years of armed S/O discharge reports demonstrate that public safety demands training tailored to the needs of the position, not meet minimally required standards. The more and more S/Os are asked to perform tasks associated with traditional policing, the more and more they need to be trained to faithfully execute their duty to protect people and property. The security industry should take the lead and prepare its line personnel for the more complex work that’s in demand.
Javier Soto, JD, is a retired federal agent and former police firearms instructor, and a graduate of various federal, military and local police SWAT schools. He also served in internal audit/internal affairs type roles in two different federal agencies. Reginald Kornegay, director of Executive Preparedness Group, LLC, is an experienced senior level federal regional emergency management official and trainer and a senior level military officer (reserves). He is also a former federal agent and police officer and has completed numerous SWAT, sniper, and other tactical programs. Kornegay has developed and provided leadership, emergency management, and line officer training for domestic and foreign police and military forces.