Tuesday, June 14, 2011

State rep seeks to limit private security mimicking cops

Just before my trip to Mexico City last week, Grits published a post titled "Private security mimicking cops promotes confusion," which argued that "Impersonating a police officer is supposed to be a crime, not a business model." As it turns out, I'm not the first to say so. Last week while I was gone, Rep. Linda Harper-Brown filed HB 80 "Relating to restrictions on certain private security companies' use of vehicles that mimic law enforcement vehicles," a reprisal of HB 2528 which received a committee hearing in the 82nd regular session but never a vote. (See the video here, beginning at the 36:20 mark.) There were no witnesses besides Brown herself at the hearing, and one of her aides told me (and Harper-Brown herself said in the committee hearing) that the bill originated when she was driving home from Austin during the 81st Texas Legislature and saw a Statewide Patrol vehicle at a construction site. She called her staff to ask and they determined it was a private security firm, not an actual law enforcement vehicle.

Somehow I'd missed this bill during the regular session, but if I'd known about it I might have gone to testify on its behalf. As Grits mentioned earlier, on the company's website, "the company claims the authority to "Apprehend and arrest suspects for crimes against you or your property," though of course private security do not have 'arrest' powers." Further, a sign  they provide "free" to customers declares that, "All vehicles and persons on this property are subject to being stopped and questioned," and that "All persons on this property are subject to search as this is private property." (Emphasis in original.) Their client list includes apartment complexes and homeowners associations, so if true, such authority would presumably include visitors going to and from private residences.

On the Texas State Troopers Association website in response to Grits' post, someone suggested readers lookup "State Tactical" out of Houston, so I did, and their vehicles and uniforms look even more cop-like, complete with flashing blue lights on top of their cars, armed with tasers, shotguns, and even semi-automatic weapons. Check it out for yourself:


I don't know if it will be possible for Harper-Brown to tack her bill onto anything moving that's allowed under Governor Perry's various "calls" - perhaps the Sanctuary Cities bill may be a possibility - but I'm increasingly convinced this is a significant issue going forward.

22 comments:

Jeff said...

Thanks for getting that some attention. DPS could sure use more teeth to the statutes regulating private security. The Occupations code prohibits certain conduct but there are no arrest titles in there. We need precise statutes prohibiting specific conduct that will make a prosecutor actually read the case before rejection them back to us. We have created a statute to alleviate this and I'd be more than happy to forward it along to the right person that would help deter undesired conduct should it be voted on. Just give me a name and I'll send it up. I think an El Paso DA actually wrote it.

Anonymous said...

Something needs to be done about this and right of way. They look and act just like the real police and that is scary.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Jeff, send it to Rep. Harper-Brown: She seems to be the only legislator working on the topic. I'd like to see it, too. Email it to shenson[at]austin.rr.com

Sandy said...

Thanks, Grits, for putting this issue to your readers. It's a scary situation that seems to have the potential to get ugly at the drop of a hat.

And thanks to Rep. Harper-Brown. She's certainly getting a letter of gratitude from me, with a copies to the governor's office and to my local state representative. Fellow readers, if you agree, won't you do the same?

Anonymous said...

Sunny Jim! Everyone in the video seems just a little over anxious to pull the trigger on someone!

How many of these private companies exist? Had no idea they carried tactical assault weapons. Sweet fancy Moses!

Glad someone made this public.

Charlie O said...

If one of wannabe yuks comes at you (and you're minding your own business or some such thing) pointing their wannabe machine gun at you, can you pop in the forehead and have a valid self defense claim?

Pirate Rothbard said...

Good to see private security is alive and well. Unlike the yuks at the donut shop, these guys don't live off other people's taxes.

Anonymous said...

They look pretty dumpy to me. Couldn't make it as regular police, so they are in private security. Kind of like our own mainland-America Blackwater, just not as qualified, I'm guessing. I don't understand the need.

William said...

Pirate-


You are right, they are not operating on the dime of the tax payer, but they are not trained on a tax payer dime, either. These folks seem a little too happy holding these weapons and I am sure the training and psychological background checks are no where near as thorough. Would you feel safe with one of these clowns pointing a gun at you?

Anonymous said...

"Would you feel safe with one of these clowns pointing a gun at you?"

Actually, I don't feel safe with a lot of the real law enforcement clowns having guns.

Pirate Rothbard said...

William,

If I'm going to be shot dead, let it be by a private security firm that my family can sue and win in a court of law.

The city and state enjoy a lot of legal protection that the private guards don't have.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So Pirate, does that mean you have no problem with these guys imitating cops in their dress, cars, etc.?

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing these folks are pretty limited in where they can do their thing. They probably don't roll down the streets too often. I bet they're mainly relegated to whatever area they're assigned to. Still, though, I imagine there's going to be some suits coming their way. Thinking they have to be pretty careful in not impersonating actual officers. Just looking at the car, it does look very similar to a law enforcement vehicle. Reminds me of bounty hunters.

Anonymous said...

They have beefed up the DART transit cops since 2005 (now they even have their own highway patrol cars), but back then they seemed to be just like private security to the average joe. Except that if they beat you up, they can still charge you with a felony and make it stick. Your word against theirs, period.

Pirate Rothbard said...

Grits, any kind of power can be misused. I'm not convinced that's what's really going on.

If these guys want to project authority to temporarily scare people who need to be escorted off the premises then what's wrong with that?

And there is arrest by police and a citizens arrest right? Maybe this is cause for some concern but overall I'm happy with what I see.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Pirate, what you fail to acknowledge is they want to fool the public to "project authority" they don't actually possess. Given how quick you are to jump on even a whiff of government overreaching its authority, your stance on this strikes me as a double standard. If a cop "projected authority" they didn't have to bully permission for a search or confiscate someone's gun, you'd be all over them for it.

A Texas PO said...

This is a bit much, for sure. I'm a probation officer and I don't get to look or act like these guys. Hell, I only get to carry a pen (that I had to purchase) when I go out in the field on home and bar checks.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Grits on this one, P.R. your staunch opposition to law enforcment expansion is not in line with supporting any form of private policing authority expansion? Who pays their check does not change the fact that it is more law enforcement expansion.

Antagonistic rhetoric maybe?

Pirate Rothbard said...

" Who pays their check does not change the fact that it is more law enforcement expansion"

I don't think law enforcement expansion is bad per se. But I regard taxation as theft, so it makes no sense to commit a crime(taxation) to hire people to prevent crime.

Check out this primer on anarcho-capitalism: here.

Anonymous said...

Why not just require private security to get the same training as cops? That way I know whomever I flag down in an emergency is the real deal. Plus, I've met a whole lot of cops that projected they had authority didn't really have at one time or another. In fact, one bragged to me once that most of the public was so stupid that he could get away with telling them anything. Ive read all these post and I've yet to hear someone relate a single personal example of something these guys did wrong

Anonymous said...

I mean if its such a big problem why isn't this blog filled with private security horror stories? Also, I've seen a number of security cars here in the Dallas area and not one did I ever mistake for anything else. Even State Wide patrol cars that were mentioned in that last article I read, look nothing like police cars to me. I can easily tell exactly who they are. Is everyone on this blog suggesting they drive unmarked cars? To my mind, I would rather know exactly who they are. Rather then have some guy in a uniform jumpping out on me from any old regular unmarked vehicle. Furthermore, what's the point of having private security at all if they can't look official to deter crime, arrest/search, or use force to protect others from? I don't know too much about this stuff so someone please fill me in?

Anonymous said...

Security officers with weapons depend on their qualifications and contracts through the security companies they work for. Security officers have to be licensed through the state of Texas in order to work security. Not all security officers carry weapons. Nevertheless, in order to carry a weapon as a security officer you have to attend training classes to be certified, than become licensed through the state, and than work a contract that allows the weapon. The weapons you can be trained in vary.