Opinion: There are more valid arguments for guards to forego firearms than to have them.
Should private security guards hired to patrol Tempe city parks do so without firearms?
The request — sought this month by a coalition of neighborhood leaders — seems, at first blush, a case of too little, too late.
The city council voted weeks earlier, in October, to spend $250,000 in an eight-month pilot program to use private patrol in all its parks.
It is an expansion of a program that already deploys armed security involving the same outfit, G4S, at several municipal locations, including Escalante and Sixth Street parks. The earlier contract apparently raised no eyebrows.
And even though the G4S contract expires in December and it must rebid for the remaining six months of the pilot program, the Requests for Proposals sent out to bidders specify the services would be for armed security.
Contracts — and their terms — could, of course, be changed.
Armed guards send the wrong message
Neighborhood leaders have valid points.
The problems at parks often involve garden-variety of noise and nuisance, mixed in with some more serious unlawful activities such as drugs and use of alcohol. There’s also the perennial and persistent issue of the homeless — little of which arises to a level requiring strong use of force.
In a letter asking the city to reconsider its position, the coalition of 14 neighborhood leaders noted, “There is no need for this level of deterrence and it has the potential to make an untenable situation worse. It also generates a demeaning message to Tempe residents regarding our city’s homeless residents.”
There is also the concern about training. Armed security guards get a fraction of the kind of training, including use of firearms, that police officers receive.
Retired Mesa police detective Bill Richardson, a gadfly who writes occasional commentary about law enforcement issues, made the same point (though he was more derisive and critical of both private security and Tempe police’s motivation of shifting patrol responsibilities to private patrol).
Private security’s role: Eyes, ears of police
More importantly, the security guards are meant to be the eyes and ears for Tempe police. They have no enforcement powers, not even to write citations.
They are meant to educate the public about laws governing use of the parks, everything from littering to leash laws and park hours. To help answer questions. And yes, to establish a level of security. But if trouble should arise, they are to call Tempe police officers and to help document incidents.
They are asked to possess or undergo limited training to deal with specialized populations, such as with folks with mental health issues. Limited training also on de-escalation tactics — although, those, too, are scenarios the guards are expected not to inject themselves and to call police instead.
If anything, security guards armed with guns project a false sense of expectation of what they could and would do.
Arizona law may grant security guards the right to carry firearms on the job, provided they have the minimal training. But whether Tempe requires it of them is not — and should not be — a foregone conclusion.
Tempe should revisit this idea in December
One councilman, Kolby Granville, expresses the same reservations as the coalition, Tempe Neighborhoods Together, and doesn’t believe guns are needed. G4S has “done a great job … They have performed admirably” so far, Granville allowed. “That said, I don’t think they should be armed … It’s not their role.”
He said he would like to revisit the issue in December; the mayor, Mark Mitchell, told Republic reporter Pauline Pineda he expects to revisit it in the spring as part of next year’s budget.
As of last week, since airing his concerns, Granville said he hadn’t heard from any of the other council members.
Timing is everything. Acting next month may complicate the bidding process. But waiting months may simply allow the status quo to take hold — armed guards in parks, without incident, that is — and take away the impetus for Tempe to dodge the issue altogether.
The city should seize the moment.
Reach Kwok at [email protected].
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