BALTIMORE MD May 16 2018
Anyone who has spent time in Baltimore City might notice a surge in the number of men and women with the word “security” emblazoned on their backs.
While there are 16,000 sworn police officers in Maryland, there are nearly double that number of private security guards, and there are 740 active security agencies in Maryland. Their job is to be a visible deterrent to de-escalate and to intervene if the police need their help.
Statewide, a trend experienced an uptick in 2015. In Baltimore, 2015 was the year of the riots.
The 11 News I-Team recently went out with a platoon of security guards who fanned out in Baltimore, patrolling the city on foot and by car.
“I would never have imagined there would be this kind of demand for private security in a public area,” said Al Bleach, with Wolf Security.
There are 28,000 licensed and certified security guards in the state of Maryland, which is an increase of 5,000 since 2013. Maryland State Police process as many as 900 applications a month.
“More property owners, managers and businesses are wanting that 24-hour security presence on their property,” Maryland State Police Sgt. Michael A. Jones said.
An overwhelming number of applications each month are for unarmed guards. For all applicants, the rate of disapproval is low. A criminal record and any false information on the application is grounds for rejection.
The Wolf Security agency patrols eight Baltimore neighborhoods, including Federal Hill, which is a welcome sight to longtime store owner Vanessa White.
“I think suburban people are afraid to come into the city, and with foot patrols, people will have a sense of being safe,” White said.
Some people said they would feel safer with security guards in the Canton neighborhood.
“Neighbors feel like they have to take it into their own hands to help their communities feel safe,” said Mark Edelson, president of the Canton Community Association.
But leaders in Canton ultimately rejected the idea of private security because of the $500,000 yearly cost, the liability and the message they felt it conveyed
“We do not want Canton to seem as an isolated separate part of the community that’s not connected to the rest of the city,” Edelson said.
University of Baltimore criminologist Jeffrey Ian Ross believes this trend in public safety should be monitored.
“We need to take this seriously,” Ross said. “When you have more people engaging in this kind of security, the potential for something to go wrong increases.”
Ross worries about the lack of oversight were reported to the state police. Though, there have been very few complaints with only 11 last year. None of the complaints involved claims of excessive force.
Most security guards in the state do not carry handguns, only batons, pepper spray and handcuffs.
“They are all certified and trained in those tools, so if need be, they can use those instruments, but out first role is to be the eyes and ears for the Baltimore Police Department,” Bleach said.
If the guards witness a crime, they can make a citizen’s arrest.
“They can make a citizen’s arrest to affect that arrest, even with a misdemeanor that’s committed in their presence for disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace,” Jones said.
The idea is that the police can’t be everywhere, but it seems like private security guards are just about everywhere. They provide extra sets of eyes and ears that residents and business owners hope will send the bad guys somewhere else.