Columbia MO April 15 2018 The city’s process for issuing licenses to armed guards drew scrutiny and criticism from the Citizens Police Review Board on Wednesday night, when Columbia Police Department Deputy Chief Jill Schlude appeared before the board to explain how city ordinances govern the process.
Board Chairman Darryl Smith said the group asked for a Police Department report on licensing of armed guards after a Waffle House guard shot and killed Anthony Warren during a New Year’s Eve disturbance at the Waffle House on Vandiver Drive.
Warren’s family has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the guard, Robert Moses; his employer, Signal 88; and the Waffle House. Columbia Community Relations Director Steven Sapp has told the Missourian that the incident spurred a re-examination into the city’s firearm test scoring system, which revealed that Moses should never have been licensed to be an armed guard because he failed to meet the minimum score on required testing.
City codes outline three sections of testing for those who apply to become armed security guards: A three-part written test on firearms safety, law and skills; a shooting test to demonstrate firearms safety and skills; and a qualifying course of fire. Any applicant for a firearm test license must score 70 percent or higher on each part of the written test and on both shooting tests to qualify for a license. The tests are administered and graded by the Police Department.
For shooting tests, Schlude told the Police Advisory Board, applicants are required to shoot 31 rounds at different targets from different distances within a certain period of time. They also must use the same type of handgun they plan to carry on the job. The written test, composed of true/false and short-answer questions, includes 19 questions on firearms safety, 17 on firearms law and 14 for firearms skill.
People who want armed guard licenses must apply to the city’s Business License Office and authorize a background check before they can test. If a person passes all the tests, the Police Department will send the grades to the Business License Office for the issuance of a license. Every license is valid for one calendar year and must be renewed before expiration if the person wants to continue working as an armed guard. Schlude told the board she doesn’t know whether renewals require new rounds of testing.
There are no limits on how many times a person can retake a written or shooting test, Schlude told the Advisory Board, but applicants must pay a $10 fee each time they retake a test.
Citizens Police Review Board member Cornelia Williams wondered why there is no limit on the number of attempts one can make to pass the shooting test.
“That is a concern to me,” Williams said. “Something in there is wrong.”
Williams said it’s important to hold armed guards to the same or similar standards as police officers.
“Because he is acting as a person walking around with a gun that can take somebody’s life,” she said. “But we’re kind of saying: ‘Here’s your license. Now go.’”
Board member Bill Davis said it is “alarming to me” that the power to grant someone authority to carry a deadly weapon lies with the Business License Office. Board member Val DeBrunce agreed.
“This is not something that starts in the Business (License) Office,” DeBrunce said. “This seems backwards to me.”
Davis also questioned the requirements for good moral character. City ordinances say the Business License Office “may,” but isn’t required to, deny a license to an applicant who has committed a felony within the past 10 years or a misdemeanor within the past five. Schlude said the Business License Office is always welcome to consult police about those decisions.
In response to questions, Schlude also told the board that armed guard training includes nothing about how to de-escalate a situation. The Police Department also does no psychological evaluations.
In a phone interview in early March, Sapp told the Missourian that a re-examination of armed guard testing records over the past year, conducted after the Waffle House shooting, revealed that scores had been miscalculated after a change in test administrators.
“The staff member administering the test began to score as an aggregate score rather than individual section score,” Sapp said. “That was an error on our part.”
The Police Department identified and notified seven armed guards who had to retake a written test to keep their licenses, Sapp said in an email. Three of the seven had originally failed their written test, Sapp said. The Police Department couldn’t find test scores of the other four.
Moses was among the three who didn’t pass the written test, Sapp said. He was notified to retake the test but chose to become an unarmed security guard, Sapp said.
Sapp said staff has notified test administrators to fix the problem. He also said he didn’t know when the change of staff occurred or how many armed guards were affected.
Apart from the test scoring, the Missourian also found discrepancies in the city’s record-keeping by examining armed guard licensing activity for 2016, 2017 and 2018. The Missourian also obtained records of written and shooting test scores by armed guard applicants for 2017 and 2018, along with shooting test sign-in sheets for 2016 and 2017. Scores on written tests taken in 2016, however, were unavailable.
City code requires that every applicant for an armed guard license must have taken and passed the firearm tests within the past calendar year in order to qualify. A Missourian analysis showed that among the 56 applicants listed on the 2017 report as receiving new or renewed licenses, five had no record of having taken and passed a shooting test within the year before they got the license. The same was true for three of the 55 people listed on the 2018 report.
Sapp said three of the five people listed as having new licenses in 2017 — with no record of taking a shooting test within the past year — were never actually issued a license.
“They applied but they didn’t secure an employment with an armed guard company,” Sapp said in a March 14 phone interview. “I don’t know why they are on there. (The staff) probably built them into the system so that they could process their licenses once they obtained an employment.”
One of the three people identified by Sapp, however, was listed in the records as being employed by Citadel Security in both 2017 and 2018.
Sapp has not responded to multiple follow-up inquiries about the matter since March 15. Questions to Business License Office Director Janice Finley have been redirected to Sapp. Schlude also declined to be interviewed in advance of her Wednesday night meeting with the Citizens Police Review Board or to answer Missourian questions afterward.