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Training For California’s Armed Security Guards Raises Concerns

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A gun training simulator in Oakland. (CBS)

A gun training simulator in Oakland. (CBS)

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ELK GROVE (CBS 5) — Security guards outnumber sworn peace officers four to one in this state according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs. While they are there to protect, some firearms instructors are concerned about how armed guards are being trained.

At The Boulevard salon in Elk Grove, gossip flies faster than foil wraps and hair dye. No one expected that outside bullets would be flying.

Next door to Andrea Nowak’s beauty shop the Chase Bank was being robbed. “You’re thinking to yourself holy smoke… I had to scoot down like this” she said.

But the two robbers never got off a shot. It was the armed security guard who was firing.

“We found out that he was held at gunpoint himself that he was asked to throw his gun, and that when they were actually taking off he was able to grab his gun,” she said.

He then ran out the door, firing at the robbers.

“He was standing out there, shooting out close to where our cars are parked,” said Nowak, explaining that it looked like he was trying to hit the getaway car.

“Anybody who is working here could have been getting out of their car to get to work and they could have been shot,” she said.

Certainly police don’t run out firing their weapon into a crowd of people, why would a trained, armed security guard?

While no one would talk to CBS 5 about the details of the robbery consider this: To qualify for a basic “guard card,” the state requires 40 hours of training. To qualify to carry a loaded gun, there is 14 more hours of training with six at the firing range. Some long-time instructors such as Steve Caballero said those requirements are not enough.

“Considering what police officers go through, months and months of training, we’re looking at a security officer that has the same equipment, the same weapons and he has two days of training for firearms,” said Caballero.

What bothers him even more is a new trend in the industry: Some armed security guards are getting trained and qualified without ever firing live bullets.

“There’s no recoil, there’s no noise, and they are qualified. The state will give them a firearms card. To me it’s unbelievable,” said Caballero.

In the Bay Area there’s one school, in Oakland, training security guards using a legal simulator.

“It’s a very good high tech system,” said lead instructor Marcus Bronfield.

9mm Glocks are retrofitted with compressed air to simulate the kick of real ammunition. Bronfeld said even law enforcement uses the “Lasershot” program and it actually has advantages over traditional firing range training.

“Nervousness about the weapon misfiring, nervousness about the weapon blowing up in your face, all of that is a little more relaxed in a simulator training,” said Bronfield.

How relaxed? Without any of the classroom training, Bronfield put CBS 5’s Allen Martin through a video scenario, then the test for qualifying shooting a laser at a target.

Without any training, Martin passed, scoring 30 out of 250. Technically, he passed the shooting requirement to become an armed guard and never once did he fire a real bullet. So why is the state allowing it?

“It was the technology that changed. The regulations haven’t kept pace,” said Russ Heimerich of the state Department of Consumer Affairs, which regulates the security guard industry.

“There is nothing in the regulations that specifically authorize or prohibit the use of laser simulators,” said Heimerich.

But on the state’s own website it is spelled out clearly: “A simulator may be used to qualify.” So how did that wording get added?

“I think it was probably interpreting the regulations as they stand, probably because we have had questions about them,” said Heimerich.

And quite possibly pressure from the industry which needs to encourage new applicants. “It’s much less expensive to do it this way,” Heimerich admitted.

Critics such as Caballero said that is no excuse and they’re complaining, loudly, at state hearings.

“These are cartoon firearm qualifications. It’s up to you as the head of this bureau to put a stop to this nonsense,” Caballero told the board earlier this year.

And to CBS 5 he reiterated: “Do we have a vested interest in having individuals trained more? Yes, we do, we are not saying that we don’t. We’re saying that we want more training for the security officer. That is all we are saying.”

Back at her beauty shop, Andrea Nowak agrees.

“When anyone is allowed to hold a gun, especially wearing a uniform, you are assuming they are professionals but in the end you are finding out yeah well maybe not,” she said.

The Loss Prevention Group told CBS 5 ideally both simulator and live fire training requirements combined would be best. The state is now considering changing the regulatory language but they say that could take close to a year.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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