WMBF News Investigates: Minimal requirements for armed security - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

WMBF News Investigates: Minimal requirements for armed security officers

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(WMBF) - Security officers are responsible for keeping you safe and at first glance you may mistake them for police officers.

That's because they wear a uniform, have some type of badge or logo, and some of them even carry a gun.

In a WMBF News investigation, see how the training those officers must go through here in South Carolina is hardly comparable to what other states require.

Perhaps at no other time has there been a greater demand for safety on the Grand Strand than 2015.

With Bikefest and Memorial Day Weekend just days away, there is a rush to make sure everyone is prepared. In the wake of last year's deadly violence on Ocean Boulevard, a number of hotels and businesses are taking steps to make sure chaos doesn't break out on their property by reaching out to private security companies for officers..

David Robertson with Coastal Protective Services says he's booked solid and now turning business away. All of his officers will be working Memorial Day weekend, and the majority of them will carry a gun while on duty.

Being a private armed officer carries a lot of responsibility. In fact, on private property, these officers hold the same powers as sheriff's deputies, including the ability to make arrests.

But their required training is just a fraction of what full time law enforcement officers go through.

”I do not think that the minimum requirement is nearly enough with the abilities that they have and the power that they have,” Robertson admitted.

To become a private security officer in South Carolina, SLED requires a minimum of four hours training to be an unarmed officer.

Robertson says preparing his patrols for what they might have to deal with simply can't be fully taught in that short amount of time.

“[Security guards] have to know when legally, they can arrest someone, what laws they are breaking, and that's monumental it's just not possible in four hours,” he said.

Once those four hours of unarmed training are completed, tack on another four-hour course and you can be an armed officer.

Robertson says some of his guards never touched a gun before in their lives until they go through the course, but a few classroom sessions and 65 fired shots later, they can be cleared for work.

Compare that training to what's mandated in other states, and the difference is staggering.

In South Carolina, private armed officers complete a minimum of eight hours, armed officers in Florida go through 68 hours of training -- 28 hours spent on firearms.

In Oklahoma, armed officers must pass 72 hours of training, followed by another 8 in Continuing Education.

Many private security companies on the Grand Strand admit South Carolina lags well behind others in this field, which is why most of them set their own training requirements that exceed the state's, specifically when it comes to time on the gun range..

”It's about four or five hours in the classroom...the range, it really depends on who we are bringing out. Sometimes we'll spend 6 hours out here sometimes it's two or three if we have people who have shot before and not having a lot of issues to work through,” said Robertson.

A few years ago, the North Myrtle Beach Department of Public Safety revisited its process on how officers handle cases where private officers are the first on scene.

Sgt. Aaron Best says while those cases rarely end with an arrest, instead officers take a “de-escalation approach,” calming crowds and teaching people about what is or isn't legal.

There is a plan in place for how to handle a suspect who has been handcuffed and not just detained by a private officer.

”A security guard, on his own property, has full arrest rights so at that time we only facilitate the safe transportation from the private property to our detention facility and then we make sure that the security guard understands the parameters that he'll need to follow in bringing the charges up to the judge,” Best explained.

While private armed security officers in the state are allowed to make arrests on private property where they are employed, Robertson says he hopes none of his officers ever find themselves in that position.

“We like to look at statistics of we've been at this club that had six shootings this year alone,” said Robertson. “While many private armed officers may never fire a shot outside of a gun range, there are cases of those officers being involved in shootings.”

Last September, someone pulled up to what used to be Tiffany's Cabaret, located next to Highway 501 and fired several shots at people standing in the parking lot.

The private security officer working that night fired three shots back.

WMBF News spoke to the officer who works for Coastal Protective Services.

He says he hasn't fired his gun while working since then, and the company says that's the only time one of its officers has used a gun on duty.

In the case of this shooting and many other incidents involving private officers, local police departments are dispatched.

Once police arrive, those officers say they must decide what's the next course of action.

“When we arrive on scene, do we believe an arrest has already been made or is there an investigation that still needs to follow?” said Best. “Since we've been there, there are no longer shootings, that's what we look at because security especially needs to be proactive not reactive.”

Soon, you may see students working as armed officers at hotels, businesses, or housing complexes on the Grand Strand.

When you do, Robertson says he wants you to know that while the state may not have the strictest training requirements for officers, there are many companies doing their parts to make their employees on par with others across the country.

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