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Criminals slip through cracks in security trade

1998 February 2

Reserve Law Officers

Association of America

P.O. Box 17807 / San Antonio, Texas 78217

Phone: 210-653-5854 / FAX 210-653-9655


Criminals slip through

cracks in security trade

The following information is from the San Antonio Express-News, Sunday, Feb. 1, 1998, by Adolfo Pesquera, Staff Writer

    The last San Antonio homicide victim in 1997 was shot by a licensed security guard with a criminal record who, by state law, should not have been permitted to work as a guard or carry a weapon.
The guard, Arthur Rodriguez, is charged with murder in the Dec.29 death of 33-year-old Pedro Perez.
Records show Rodriguez, 39, was convicted of a felony May 9,1996, for possession of a prohibited weapon.
He received his security license Sept. 26, 1996, more than four months after he was sentenced in 227th District Court to five years probation, said Jay Kimbrough, director of the Texas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies.
“Because of the date of the conviction and the time involved to process a criminal history check, he could have fallen in a seam where the information wasn’t available at the right time,” said Kimbrough, whose agency is responsible for conducting back-ground checks on all security guards.
If state regulators had known about the conviction, they would have denied Rodriguez his license,
A staff of 40 state employees at the Texas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies regulates 160,OOO people employed in the rapidly growing security industry in Texas.
Background checks for security guards routinely take months. Federal testimony has shown weaknesses in oversight across the country allow easy entry for criminals who are prohibited from becoming licensed and armed guards.
The problem was dramatically demonstrated on the night of Dec. 19 when Rodriguez, working for Bexar County Security and Investigations, went to his assignment at La Cita Nite Club.
The club is one of many small taverns that cater to laborers in the blue-collar South Side neighborhood of Columbia Heights. The taverns line Somerset Road, across from a milelong stretch of junkyards and auto repair shops.
Sitting in a corner lot, La Cita is a long and narrow, gray cinderblock building, with a faded rust red paint job on its wooden porch. A bare blue strobe light hanging inside the window beckons nighttime passers-by.
Perez, a construction worker, intended to reunite there over a few beers with some friends before heading to Mexico to spend the rest of the holidays with family.
He sat at a table with Mario Cantu, 24, Cantu’s cousin and a lady friend.
Police obtained about 10 eyewitness accounts to what transpired.
After a few rounds of beer, Cantu went to the restroom. While there, he got into a fight with a man from another table.
“I don’t know why he hit me,” Cantu said. “When the security guard came in, we were locked in an embrace..”
As the two wrestled, Cantu said, the guard struck him on the left elbow with a black metal flashlight, leaving a bleeding gash.
Perez entered the restroom to come to Cantu’s defense, Cantu said. Cantu’s recollection was that Perez only attempted to get him to safety.
“I was dazed. I went outside on my own,” he said.
According to police reports, witnesses saw the guard escort Perez outside as Cantu walked just ahead of them.
Once outside, the two men kept walking, but the guard drew his gun and demanded they stop.
Cantu said he didn’t understand why the guard continued to follow them. Frightened, he began to run
I got to the street, but I got ripped,” Cantu said.
He said that as he lay in the middle of Somerset Road, “The guard kicked me in the stomach. Then he pointed the fun down at my calf and shot me.”
Perez, who saw his friend fall, grabbed a rotting 2-by-4 board by the curb and held it like a bat. The guard jerked the gun toward Perez and fired into his chest, Cantu said.
Rodriguez claimed self-defense.
Homicide detectives decided otherwise. They determined the disturrbance in the bar already had been brought under. control and that the guard exceeded his authority when he chased the men into the street and used deadly forcedepartment spokesman Sgt.Ernest Celaya said.
Rodriguez faces murder charges in the death of Perez and aggravated assault in the shooting of Cantu.
The court-appointed public defender, Ed Bartolomei, declined to comment on the case, except to say he probably will seek a bond reductionRodriguez is being held in jail on $500,000 bond.
State requirements for security guards include the restriction that they “must not have been arrested, charged, indicted, entered into pretrial diversion, placed On deferred adjudication, probation or convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude.
Robert Morales, the owner and manager of Bexar County Security and Investigations, said he hired Rodriguez on a Friday – two days before the shooting.
Records from the state board confirm it was notified of Rodriguez’s new job the next Monday, the day Rodriguez was charged with murder.
“He had an active commission card to work as a security guard, Morales said. “(Rodriguez) was just going into the process of getting his background check. We try to. run the criminal checks here, but the Police Department won’t give us the information.”
Morales said Rodriguez didn’t state on his job application that he had a previous felony conviction.
Morales, who has owned and managed security companies for six years, said he immediately fires any employee with a criminal record.
However, he said, the only criminal records he can readily obtain are those from Bexar County.
Morales said he would like better access to criminal records and would support legislative reforms to achieve that.
State board records show that in 1997, six incidents involving four guards at Morales’ company were reported to the state.
In addition to the charges against Rodrigueztwo cases were closed with no action taken because the incidents did not invol violations of the license rules.
The remaining two cases are pending but do not involve acts violence, Kimbrough said. The agency’s director added that. it was difficult to say whether the number of incidents at Morales’ company were unusual.
Rodriguez’s prohibited weapon conviction was the latest in a long criminal history.
According to Bexar County records, he was charged with assault with bodily injury in May 1986 and with terroristic threats the next month. Both charges were dismissed because witnesses failed to appear in court.
In January 1987, he was charged with driving while intoxicated and evading arrest. He was sentenced to two years probation.
Three months after completing that sentencehe was charged with shoplifting and received deferred adjudication – a form of probation that dismisses the charge.
In August 1994, Rodriguez was charged with theft and the assault with bodily injury of his wife. That charge landed him a one-year probation,
Delays in background checks can take several weeks to several months, Kimbrough said.
The board staff submits its requests for criminal histories to the Department of Public Safety and he FBI. But the agency’s staff is also hampered internally, Kimbrough said.
“I wish we had more people and wish we had more computers. We need more of both in order to keep up with the demands placed on us by the marketplace,” he said.
In 1975, a staff of 22 regulated 4,568 people – a ratio of 1 to 207. By 1996, the ratio was one staff member for every 4,000 regulated individuals, Kimbrough said.
“Obviously, the demand has in-eased dramatically, where the agency has not kept pace, not anywhere near,” he said.
The Rodriguez case comes at a time when the state board is fighting for its survival. Two critical reports about the agency’s management and fiscal controls were issued by the state auditor in December 1995 and March 1997
Sen. Mike Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, attempted to scuttle the agency in the last legislative session after receiving the 1997 state auditor’s report that remained critical of the board.
The auditor’s second report stated that “weaknesses over financial, human resources and policy management that were identified in the prior audit had not been corrected.”
Audit findings included falsified food vouchers, falsified supporting documentation and unreasonable travel expenses. In one instance, the auditor questioned a meeting where 14 board members and employees spent $2,584 for food, including $899 for coffee.
The auditor’s evaluation of the background-check process found a 54 percent backlog – 3,323 applications out of 6,130 -. in the first quarter of 1997.
A media aide to Moncrief said t‘abysmal” performance by the agency prompted Moncrief to file a bill to stop all state funding for the board and to transfer its functions to another agency
The bill failed, but a long list of stringent reporting and performance criteria were attached to the board’s funding. In addition, the agency’s Sunset review was moved up from 2003 to 1999.
The agency is expected to be on-line soon with a new computer system that will speed up the back-ground checks, Kimbrough said.
However, even with better technology, the agency has just 40 employees and, of those, only nine are field investigators.
It is the agency’s mandate to oversee a statewide industry of more than 100,000 alarm installers, security guards and private investigators. Within Texas’ rapidly growing security industry, about 120,000 people are employed as guards. About 25,OO0.of them carry firearms, Kimbrough said.
In Bexar County, 10,168 security guards are licensed, state records show. Of those, 2,051 are carrying firearms.
By comparison, the San Antonic Police Department and Bexar County Sheriff’s Department combined have about 3,100 peace officers,
“We are reactive. We act when we receive consumer complaints. information from the police, thc media, In addition, we. do periodic field audits. Obviously, the number of audits is going to be small,” Kimbrough said.
Criminal background checks are further complicated by the big turnover common in the industry. Rodriguez is an example. He first went to work for Smith Protection Services. Five months later, he was working for All Counties Professional Security System, Kimbrough said. Bexar County Security and Investigations was the third company Rodriguez had been employed by in 15 months.
“That is not atypical,” Kimbrough said. “There is fairly high turnover.”
Low pay and heavy competition for qualified applicants among a large number of companies -there are 7,000 registered companies in Texas – is what drives the turnover, industry observers say. The typical wage for a guard is about $8 an hour.
Training is minimal. To carry a gun, a guard must complete five hours of instruction in licensing requirements and basic job tasks, and 29 hours of instruction on his or her legal powers, emergency situations and the use of firearms.
During the past two years, the state licensing agency handled about 14,000 cases involving some sort of disciplinary action.
But the agency is straining to rack a booming industry.
Nationally, the security industry the seventh fastest-growing service industry with a 15 percent annual growth rate, according to the American Society of Industrial Security, an industry association that boasts that the ratio of security guards to public law enforcement officers is 3-to-l.
Total revenues in the industry jumped from $20 billion in 1980 to $100 billion in 1996, according t6 the association.
In 1996, less than half that amount – $45 billion – was spent on all federal, state and local law enforcement.
These days, Cantu is laid up on his girlfriend’s sofa, waiting for his leg to heal enough for him to go back to work. The bullet cut through the calf muscle and sliced upward, lodging behind his knee. The doctors are hoping the leg will heal without having to remove the slug, Cantu said.
He spends his time watching Spanish soap operas while his left leg rests in a brace. And he thinks about the night of the shooting.
“Pedro was my friend. I had known him for eight years,” Cantu said.
They grew up in neighboring towns in the state of Coahuila. But they didn’t meet until they teamed up south of the border while traveling to Texas to find work.
They remained good friends, but hadn’t seen each other recently and were happy about the reunion That night at the bar.
Cantu didn’t know Perez was dead until a friend told him at the hospital.

Lawmaker put heat on board

Texas state Sen. Mike Moncrief was ready to pull the plug on the board that licenses security guards months before a San Antonio guard killed one man and injured another.
Moncrief, D-Fort Worth, blamed strong pressure from the security industry and disinterest among lawmakers for the survival of. an agency that the state auditor’s office said showed “a serious lapse of oversight” in a March 1997 report.
The reports findings led to the firing in April of then-executive director Clemma Sanders and have kept the board under the scrutiny. of the Senate Finance Committee, the Sunset Commission and the state auditor’s office.
“Obviously, the loss of life in that. recent incident in San Antonio points to the serious issues we. must examine,” Moncrief said. “And I point out that this is not a board that licenses marriage counselors or optometrists.
Security guard Arthur Rodriguez had been on probation for a felony conviction during the months he had been licensed and worked as a security guard. He was charged with murder and aggravated assault after killing Pedro Perez and shooting Mario Cantu while on duty at a South Side nightclub.
During the 1997 legislative session, the Senate Finance Committee deleted funding for the board, and Moncrief filed a bill to move, its duties to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education.
However, Moncrief said his bill was referred to a “dark, deep sub-committee” and never came up for. debate in the Senate.


Revised February 2, 1998

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