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Editorial

Private security guards: Are current Maryland standards adequate? | COMMENTARY

Petra Anzures, a friend of Kevin Torres, lights candles for a vigil outside ChrisT Bar in Baltimore Highlands where Torres was fatally shot by a security guard early on Nov. 7. Latino protesters have been protesting at nightly vigils at the corner of E. Lombard and S. Haven Streets for the Honduras-born Torres, 35, president and coach of the Villanueva soccer team. He was celebrating a championship win for his team at the bar when he was killed. This is the third incident in recent weeks where someone has been shot by a private security guard. File. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).

With all the criticism heaped on law enforcement in recent years, from claims of racial profiling and use of excessive force to outright corruption, it’s fair to wonder whether private security guards — especially those who carry weapons — are also receiving sufficient scrutiny. That concern has been underscored in recent weeks by multiple shootings involving civilian armed guards, who are often employed by businesses and affluent neighborhoods seeking to supplement the services of their local police departments. There were three such shootings within three weeks in Baltimore recently. And earlier this month in Prince George’s County, a 43-year-old security guard and a 20-year-old suspected of shoplifting shot and killed each other at a Giant grocery store in Oxon Hill.

Is it part of a growing trend? Have guards become too ready to pull the trigger? Are they facing more perilous circumstances than in the past? We don’t know. No one seems to routinely track the circumstances surrounding such incidents. While shootings by private guards are reported as acts of gun violence, the involvement of the security guard isn’t cataloged as a distinct circumstance in Maryland — nor in many other states.

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That raises all kinds of questions including whether Maryland should impose stricter training standards on the 12,500 armed and unarmed security guards now certified by Maryland State Police. Such standards are now largely left to private security companies (beyond whether applicants have ever been convicted of a crime that should disqualify them). It may well be that the current licensing system is sufficient, that oversight is adequate and that private security officers — sometimes former police officers themselves — perform their jobs well. But they also might be woefully lacking in training. Either way, such an inquiry should be high on the agenda when Gov.-elect Wes Moore, Lt. Gov.-elect Aruna Miller and members of the Maryland General Assembly are sworn into office in January.

The family and friends of Kevin Torres deserve to know someone is paying attention. The 35-year-old soccer coach was shot and killed by a security guard outside a Baltimore bar on Nov. 7 after intervening in a dispute that started over a missing cellphone. The incident remains under investigation, as do the others, including the fatal shooting of a 26-year-old outside a Royal Farms near Carroll Park on Oct. 30 and the Harbor East shooting on Oct. 21 when a guard injured a man allegedly attempting to steal from the CVS and wielding a hypodermic needle.

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The lack of professional standards and oversight for private guards makes it difficult to gauge whether these shootings were justified. Do guards have the training or the experience to know how to respond to potentially dangerous situations? In Maryland, we don’t know.

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The recent tragedies present an opportunity for newly-elected officials in Maryland to demonstrate that they are listening to public concerns over gun violence and over unequal enforcement. “Justicia para Kevin” has been the cry from Baltimore’s Latino community regarding Torres’ death (Torres was born in Honduras). It could just as easily be “Justicia para todos”— or “Justice for all” — as each of us has a stake in ensuring that security guards have been taught to uphold public safety and not to jeopardize it.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.


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