With little oversight, private security industry booms as public complaints rise
Sun., May 27, 2018
Donald Doucette was trying to get his life together during the last week of July in 2016.
He had moved out of his daughter’s place and wanted to stay clean long enough to get into an addictions program. The 51-year-old culinary chef was struggling with alcoholism and living with epilepsy, but things were looking up.
Then he was found dead in an alley near Lucky 97 Supermarket in downtown Edmonton.
Private security guard Sheldon Russell Bentley was charged with manslaughter and robbery after an autopsy found Doucette died of blunt abdominal trauma. He’s accused of taking $20 from Doucette.
“Obviously I was extremely upset about it,” said Doucette’s daughter Tianna Doucette-Moody. “I can’t even wrap my head around the fact that somebody that is supposed to basically serve and protect is assaulting and robbing someone on duty.”
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The charges have not been proven in court. Bentley’s lawyer, Amanda Hart-Dowhun, declined to comment on the case, as the matter is scheduled for an upcoming criminal trial.
The manager of Lucky 97 Supermarket, Sang Nguyen, called the incident “a freak accident” but said the security firm was let go and they now have in-house security guards.
Bentley’s trial, which starts June 4 in Edmonton, comes amid a boom in private security in the province and a rise in public complaints accusing security workers of crimes.
There were 6,000 licensed security guards and security companies in the province in 2007, in addition to 3,300 other people licensed under the act. There are now over 24,100 licensed security services workers in Alberta.
The province updated the 40-year-old Private Investigators and Security Guards Act in 2010. Under the Security Services and Investigators Act, loss prevention, security alarm responder, executive protection, and patrol dog handler fall under security services, in addition to security guards.
Public complaints to the Alberta government about security services workers are up, from 22 in 2012 to 32 in 2017. They’ve particularly jumped in the category of “allegation of criminal act,” which includes assault, from two in 2012 to 22 in 2017.
The complaints are not posted publicly. The Star obtained the information after over a month of requesting it from the Justice and Solicitor General Ministry.
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Their spokesperson Brendan Cox said in an email that Alberta has “an extensive oversight process in place which requires licensees to report incidents and includes a public complaints process, random site visits and agency audits that focus on both compliance and best practice.”
Any allegation of criminal act must be investigated by the police, and the registrar is able to issue warnings, suspensions, cancellations of licenses, conditions on licenses, fines and more options if necessary, Cox said. When a complaint made against a licensed private security workers is found to have merit, the employer is required to tell the registrar what disciplinary action is being taken.
Doucette-Moody did not file an official complaint as criminal charges were already in motion. She considered a civil suit but decided it wasn’t worth the legal fees.
Bert Skeete did decide to file a complaint with the Justice and Solicitor General’s office after he received a 24-hour ban to the world famous West Edmonton Mall.
Skeete was walking around the mall when he says he was approached by a security guard who told him he matched the description of shoplifter, asked to see his ID and when he refused, told him to leave the mall and imposed the ban.
“I said ‘do not touch me, I am leaving,’” Skeete said. “They kept following me while I was leaving and only when I got out into the parking lot, they both grabbed my arms and basically I’m on my toes.”
The Mississauga man was so upset by the encounter he cut his trip to the city short.
“I feel that I was treated unfairly, I feel that the security guards there in Edmonton are poorly trained,” said the 79-year-old. “I wasn’t arguing, I was asking questions and they refused to answer me.”
Officials from the mall did not respond to the Star’s requests to comment on the incident and their security procedures. A report from the Justice and Solicitor General on Skeete’s case, ruled the complaint “unfounded” saying the guards “used an escort technique which was a soft physical control not designed to illicit injury, only minor joint manipulation to maintain control and gain compliance.”
Guards have powers to arrest people on trespassing charges as shopping centres, although they seem public, are actually private property, said Michael Kempa director of the criminology department at University of Ottawa.
But the industry remains under a cloud of secrecy as there’s no transparent annual reporting on interactions with people in crisis and use of force, unlike what’s expected of the bodies that oversee public police.
“In a lot of ways you check your constitutional rights at the door,” Kempa said. “To the extent that we all like freedom and out rights, we should be concerned.”
Kempa thinks the rise in Alberta’s private security is due to the expanding urban area around Calgary with its retail and “marketized leisure space” such as malls and outdoor shopping plazas, as well as private security contracted by resource extraction companies in more remote areas of the province.
Curt Griffiths, co-author of a 2015 report on private security prepared for Public Safety Canada, said it’s been rising across the country, not just in Alberta.
According to one 2013 analysis there were about approximately 140,000 individuals and 3,000 businesses in Canada that were licensed in the private security industry in 2012, a 40 per cent increase since 2006.
While private security “obviously has a role to play,” Griffiths believes “there’s real problems with accountability and governance with ever expanding group of individuals who have very little training.”
In Alberta, 40 hours of training are required, which amounts to “basically telling them how to put their uniform on.” Alberta recently pledged to make it even easier to get a security licence and eliminate delays.
While public police are monitored by various levels of oversight, for example to investigate into use of force, “if you look over on the private security side, there’s none of that,” Griffiths said.
But Griffiths, who’s also a professor and coordinator at the police studies program at Simon Fraser University’s School of Criminology, thinks the federal government should take the lead in developing a national framework for private security and implement transparency, and oversight measures, as well as standardized training for interacting with vulnerable people.
“You’ve got these private security officers having these encounters with vulnerable, marginalized racialized persons and there’s problems with that,” he said.
Carding within private space is something Indigenous knowledge keeper Gary Moostoos knows all too well. He was booted from Edmonton City Centre Mall in 2014 after being approached by guards while eating in the food court.
He was given a six-month ban that was later overturned by management, who apologized following a public outcry. As a city worker who interacts regularly with homeless and Indigenous people, he said he often hears stories similar to what happened to him.
“Most times it’s racial profiling,” he said. “Their work is to get rid of the undesirables.”
Moostoos thinks city council should require proper training, including how to work with vulnerable people such as the mentally ill, and homeless, as a requirement for new building licenses.
It can be done, he said, highlighting the “very respectful” and “diverse” guards at Commerce Place in Edmonton as a positive example, and Portage Place in Winnipeg that hired an Indigenous security firm after an elder was kicked out in early 2016.
Edmonton City Centre Mall pledged to require cultural sensitivity training for all staff after what happened to Moostos. They did not reply to requests for comment.
Cox, the government spokesperson, said the 40 hour Alberta Basic Training Course is due for a formal review next year and “diversity is one of several topics that has been identified for further consideration and strengthening in the next iteration of the training course.”
Skeete does not believe he was targeted because of his race — according to the report he was dressed in a denim outfit that matched that of the suspected shoplifter — and it was more to do with showing “that they have power and authority.”
But the experience soured him on the mall, and the city.
“As a result I tell you this,” he said, “if I went back to Edmonton I will never, ever go in that mall again.”
With files from Claire Theobald
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