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State Warns Thousands Of Security Guards Are Former Criminals

SACRAMENTO (AP) 10.22.01, 7:15a --

State officials warn that thousands of security guards hired to protect everything from office buildings to sporting events may have criminal records, just as companies and government agencies are boosting security following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The state Bureau of Security and Investigative Services said a backlog of complaints allows unarmed security guards to keep working while under investigation. It added that those complaints generally are kept secret, even from companies that depend on those security firms for protection.

The backlog also means new unarmed guards simply swear they haven't been convicted of a crime and begin work with a temporary permit, rather than wait the four to six months it typically takes the bureau to complete a background check.

The security bureau says it doesn't have enough staff to issue licenses faster. It denies licenses if guards are convicted of rape, robbery or another serious crime.

After background checks are completed, the security bureau typically finds about 2,500 of the 50,000 guards who receive temporary cards each year, or about 1 in 20 applicants, lied about their records and should not be allowed to work as guards in the state.

"It is absolutely criminal," Steven Giorgi, head of the security bureau, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "There is a lot of risk in the way we are doing things."

Giorgi said the state already requires that background checks be completed before armed security guards can start work, and plans to phase out temporary licenses for unarmed guards by mid-2003.

The agency may need more money to hire more staff to process licenses faster following the terrorist attacks, Giorgi said. There are about 158,000 guards licensed by the state. The number has remained stable over the past few years, but the bureau has received an influx of guard applications in the past month.

Security industry executives say they also are concerned so many former criminals are able to win jobs, but say they need the temporary licenses to remain until the state can find a way to speed up the paperwork to meet increased demand for guards.

"Very few people are going to wait for a job. They are going to go someplace else," said Al Howenstein of the California Association of Licensed Security Agencies.

Gov. Gray Davis has signed legislation to increase unarmed license fees from $25 to $40 next year, giving the security bureau an additional $1.3 million in revenue. The agency receives all its funding from fees.

Mike Lurie, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs, which oversees the bureau, does not think that's enough money to shorten the background check process to a few days.

-- PHO (, October 22, 2001

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