Arrest points to lapses by guard firms

Private-security screening, licensing said to be erratic

March 11, 2006|By ANNIE LINSKEY | ANNIE LINSKEY,SUN REPORTER

The arrest this week of a twice-convicted felon who was working as an armed guard at a grocery store in Anne Arundel County reveals a lack of standards and enforcement in the country's $13 billion-dollar private-security industry that even those within the industry agree is a problem.

"Background checks on security guards has always been a problem," said Don C. Johnson, the editor of the National Council of Investigation & Security Services Report, an industry publication. "Licensing is not standardized across the states. Most guard companies are very good about screening in their area, but there are occasions when that doesn't happen."

The federal government leaves regulation of security guards up to states. Some do nothing, and others have varying requirements for background checks and training. In states such as Maryland, where guards must be licensed, enforcement tends to lie with the security companies themselves - which are subject to enormous pressures to contain costs and temptations to cut corners.

"I think the industry is erratic," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, who has pushed for legislation that would require security companies who protect critical infrastructure to run background checks on their guards. "There are some excellent self-policing firms, and I think there are a lot of fly-by-night firms."

This week, Karl Glenn Salenieks, 34, of Crofton was arrested while working as an armed security guard at a Weis Markets grocery store in Odenton. He was charged with illegal possession of firearms by a convicted felon and impersonating a police officer, according to police.

Police began investigating Salenieks last month after he allegedly attempted to pull over a vehicle, unaware that it contained a pair of police officers. During the investigation, police discovered that Salenieks was convicted for a pair of armed robberies in Howard County in May 1989.

Authorities learned this week that Salenieks had never applied to the state police for a required license to be a security guard in Maryland, said Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police. That revelation prompted state police to launch an investigation into Fallsway Security, the Jessup-based company that employed Salenieks.

Kevin Falls, the owner of Fallsway Security, said that his company is cooperating with the state investigation. He said that hiring Salenieks "was definitely an administrative mistake on our part and I'll take whatever punishment we need to take."

Falls, who is a retired Anne Arundel County police officer, added: "We don't know how this guy got in under the radar, and it's being looked into. The paperwork should have been checked when he came on. Was it? I don't know. That's what I'm trying to get to the bottom of."

Falls said that Salenieks had been working for the security firm for about a year, and that up until this incident there had never been a complaint about him. He was fired Tuesday, Falls said.

Dennis Curtin, a spokesman for the Weis store, said that he hired Fallsway to do security because the company said they employee only law-enforcement personnel. He said he's disturbed by the events but that Weis is waiting to determine whether the security problem was isolated or widespread before taking any action.

Allegations of poorly vetted security guards also arose in connection with the arson in 2004 of a housing development in Charles County, believed to be one of the biggest arsons in state history. A lawsuit filed late last year alleges that Security Services of America - the company that was supposed to be protecting the 26 homes that were damaged in the early-morning fires - did not properly check the backgrounds of two employees who guarded the homes.

In Maryland, the state police requires guards to provide fingerprints so both federal and state background checks can be performed. The checks take between 90 and 120 days to complete.

The firms that provide security guards are also required to have a license and can be fined or put out of business if they don't, Rouse said.

The state police have one trooper who, among other responsibilities, performs random audits on the state's 689 licensed security firms, Rouse said. He said 15 random audits were preformed last year. The year before that there were 10 audits, he said.

"We can't be at every interview session when people go to hire someone," Rouse said. "Companies know what the requirements are - if we get any complaints, then we address them."

Reginald L. Przybylski, president of the Maryland Investigators and Security Association, a statewide organization that represents the interests of about 200 security companies, said, "I think the Maryland State Police may need additional investigators in their licensing section to do these audits."

Rouse said there are more than 21,000 licensed security guards in the state. Last year, state police accepted 6,671 applications and renewals and turned down 181 applications, he said.

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