When a customer walks into a supermarket or department store in Maryland, they might encounter a person wearing a bulletproof vest, a badge and a belt equipped with a baton and pepper spray.
If the guard is employed by the store, they likely are unlicensed and unregulated. If the store contracts from a private security agency, its guards are required to have a Maryland State Police-issued license.
The state does not require any training for guards in either category — unless a guard applies to carry a handgun — and does not track guards’ use of force against people on the job.
Legislation introduced in both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly seeks to change all of that by bolstering the state’s minimal standards and oversight of private security, in the name of public safety.
“Someone that has a uniform and badge, we treat them like they’re in a position of trust. And we treat them as if they have a presumption of correctness. It’s what we do with law enforcement. We do it with firefighters, we do it with anybody apparently in authority. So it just stands to reason that you would have standards for these people,” said Jill P. Carter, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
The legislation would require all security guards in Maryland, regardless of their employer, to be licensed by the state. It also would establish minimum training standards — a curriculum that teaches appropriate use of force, de-escalation tactics and basic criminal law, among other topics — for every security guard and require guards or security agencies to report to state police when a guard uses force against a civilian.
The bill is set for a hearing Tuesday in the House Economic Matters Committee, with Carter presenting the legislation Wednesday to her committee, Judicial Proceedings.
The bill’s sponsors in the House, Democratic delegates Elizabeth Embry and Marlon Amprey, also represent Baltimore, where at least three people have been gunned down by private security guards in the past two years. Two of the guards have been charged with murder, while city prosecutors said last month that a third, who fatally shot a man at a Giant supermarket in Northwest Baltimore, was justified in the July 2021 killing.
In November, security guard Keith Mario Luckey fatally shot Kevin Torres Guerrero at a bar in the Highlandtown neighborhood. Luckey, 40, had a documented history of using force against people that predated his entering the sparsely regulated field of private security. As a guard, he bounced from job to job to job until his deadly encounter with Torres, a 35-year-old recreational soccer coach.
When he shot and killed Torres, Luckey had assault charges pending from an incident months earlier at the same bar. The state police division that licensed Luckey as a guard didn’t know of those charges, nor did it have notes on the times he deployed a stun gun on a woman in a wheelchair while guarding a pharmacy or used a physical restraint against an allegedly unruly grocery shopper, The Baltimore Sun reported.
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Only after Luckey was charged with murder did state police revoke his security “guard card” and handgun permit. Same goes for Kanisha Spence, who is charged in the fatal shooting of 26-year-old Marquise Powell at a Royal Farms in October.
The state police license roughly half of the 25,000 people who, federal labor data show, work security in Maryland.
Embry said The Sun’s coverage of private security in the aftermath of Torres’ killing helped inspire the security guard legislation. In an interview, she said she had concerns about the state’s limited oversight of the industry, particularly in light of the landmark police reform the state has recently undertaken.
“Security guards in Maryland just are not covered, certainly not at the level other states are covered, and not in a way consistent with the kind of oversight we’re looking for for law enforcement and their use of force,” Embry said.
As it stands, a person who wants to be a security guard in Maryland needs few qualifications. Guard license applicants must be of “good moral character and reputation” and not have been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors, according to state law. There are no other requirements.
There is little oversight for those who are granted licenses. While state police have the power to suspend or revoke guard licenses, the agency has said it is “rare” and happens only when a guard is charged with a “serious” crime. There is no standard training requirement for guards.
Maryland requires more experience and training from people who own or operate private security agencies, which have to be registered with state police. But, unlike some other states, Maryland does not require private security companies to report when their guards use force.
Steve Amitay, executive director and general counsel of the National Association of Security Companies, which represents 18 security agencies with approximately 500,000 employees, including thousands of licensed guards in Maryland, said the organization strongly supports the legislation. Many private security companies provide extensive training, according to Amitay.
“This bill levels the playing field,” Amitay told The Sun. “It’s going to guarantee that anybody you see in Maryland with a security uniform on is licensed and has had training.”
[ Maryland legislators may increase state oversight of security guards after deaths ]
Reports of guards’ violent encounters with civilians in Maryland have made headlines for at least half a century, and state lawmakers have sought sporadically to increase regulations and training for just as long.
Carter tried to boost training and education requirements as a delegate in 2005, but her bill failed to pass.
She told The Sun she felt compelled to renew her push for change after a 24-year-old man was shot and killed by the security guard at Giant in her district more than a year ago.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates said last month that his office would not charge Titus Ninneh, the guard who fatally shot Nicholas Lee on July 13, 2021, at the Giant on Reisterstown Road. Their interaction began when Ninneh asked Lee to put on a shirt, according to a narrative provided in Bates’ news release.
The dispute devolved into a physical altercation during which Lee reached for Ninneh’s gun, Bates’ office said. Ninneh fatally shot Lee and wounded a woman with him.
“While a security guard is not held to the same legal standards as a sworn police officer, it is clear that Mr. Ninneh’s actions would not be found criminal in nature in a court of law,” Bates said in a statement. “It is truly a tragedy that such a petty dispute resulted in this loss of life and that so much violence was experienced in broad daylight at a bustling business in our community.”
Voicemails left for members of Lee’s family on Friday were not returned. Ninneh’s attorney, David A. Muncy, declined to comment.
State police spokesman Ron Snyder said Ninneh is currently a licensed security guard and has been for three years. State police don’t have records indicating any prior shootings by Ninneh, Snyder said. Any other record of force is not tracked by the state.
The bill’s sponsors said the legislation’s requirement to report uses of force is a critical change to allow for the identification of problems with guards or agencies.
James Teare, who owns and works for private security companies and is a board member of the Maryland Investigators & Security Association, agreed.
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“You don’t really know if there’s a problem — or if things are going good — until you start putting those reports together and the statistics,” Teare said.
While large security companies generally support the legislation, Amitay said his organization would work with sponsors to make amendments. He said requiring guards and agencies to report uses of force by the end of a guard’s shift, as the bill is currently constituted, is unreasonable, but added that a 48-hour deadline would be manageable.
He also expressed concerns that the training requirements outlined in the bill were too extensive.
One provision of the bill would bar security guard candidates who have had findings of unlawful or excessive use of force or making false statements as a police officer — which Carter called a “concern” even within law enforcement, citing the officer who killed Anton Black on the Eastern Shore in 2019. That officer’s problematic history was not disqualifying for the Greensboro Police Department that hired him.
“With fewer regulations on security guards, it’s even more scary,” Carter said. “There are people out there who really, really get off on having some kind of badge or appearance of authority.”