Shanda Prince: "I hate being called ‘little lady.’"
About one o’clock in the morning. Wells Fargo security guard Bill Wingo was making a routine security round at his regular post, an apartment complex in La Jolla Shores. Coming up to the apartment’s pool and recreation area, which had closed at 10:00 p.m., Wingo stopped dead in his tracks. Soapsuds were billowing out of the Jacuzzi.
Gail Millhouse. It is Millhouse’s opinion that guards should not carry guns, Mace, or even handcuffs.
Wingo hurried over to have a look. This sort of vandalism had happened here before. He would have to get hold of the manager and have the Jacuzzi turned off until the mess was cleaned up. The last time it occurred the Jacuzzi was left on all night and in the morning a twelve-foot-high wall of soapsuds prevented first-floor residents from leaving their apartments.
At better than $4.50 an hour, the Del Mar racetrack guards are among the highest-paid in the county.
This time, however, Wingo found something besides soapsuds in the Jacuzzi: people. “They had parked in the parking lot, climbed over the fence, and jumped in the pool,’’ Wingo later said. “After being in the Jacuzzi for a while, they decided to put some bubble bath in it. What attracted me were the suds.” Wingo was obliged to ask them what they were doing there; even if they were legitimate apartment residents, the Jacuzzi was supposed to be closed.
“Do you have any identification?” he asked them.
“Do you live here?"
Wingo sighed. “Okay. I’m afraid I’m going to have to place you under arrest for trespassing. Everybody out of the pool.”
What happened next surprised Wingo further.
“I only saw two people, ” he said. “But when 1 ordered them out, five bodies came out of those soapsuds.” They offered Wingo no resistance; there was one man and four women. They all claimed to be twenty-nine years old, but none of them had an ID. Wingo took his five soapy trespassers into the apartment’s recreation room and locked the door from the inside.
“There I was, by myself with five people,” he recalled. “And the only way I could get the police there was to say that if these people gave me any trouble, they were going right out the door; I wouldn’t be able to stop them. Your uniform does command a certain respect; there are people who no matter what you’re wearing will mop the floor with you. But these people knew they were in trouble.” About an hour later, Wingo’s field supervisor, who was dozing on his sofa while on call, got a phone call.
“You better get up to La Jolla,” the answering service said. “Wingo just arrested five people.”
“Oh. geez. Okay, tell him I’ll be up there as quick as I can.”
The supervisor, then at home in North Park, got in his car and headed for La Jolla, feeling the tension any security supervisor feels when one of his guards arrests someone. Citizen’s arrests are a tricky business; if there turns out to be one little flaw in the way the guard conducts his arrest, it will be a “bad" arrest and the company will be in more trouble than the suspect.
But Wingo’s arrest was a good one. By the time the supervisor arrived, the police were just leaving with the five trespassers. “But,” Wingo said, “the owner of the complex didn’t want to press charges. I explained to him I couldn’t drop the charges, and an attorney said the same thing. He asked for an assessment of the damage, and the figure the manager gave him was twenty-three dollars. ” Wingo estimated the damage to the Jacuzzi at $500, but that wasn’t his main concern. “This is a problem,” he said. “You arrest five people in a complex the size of this one. and then want police assistance . . . they ’re going to be reluctant to come out in the future if you keep making arrests and the charges keep getting dropped. I’m pressing the charges myself.”
Relations with the police and the insecurity of making a citizen’s arrest are only two parts of the diverse and rapidly growing security industry. Wells Fargo alone, which is only one of the fourteen security companies in San Diego County, employs more than 400 guards. Most of them are retired military, retired law enforcement, or active military people doing security work to supplement pensions or military pay. Guards come from other walks of life as well, such as nineteen-year-old Tom Millikan, the oldest student at Point Loma High School (he was put back two grades when he moved here from Colorado), who works security at Scripps Hospital while he waits to get his diploma so he can go into ranching. Or Debbie Poole, another Wells Fargo guard, who said she likes doing security work because “it’s better than sitting around an office listening to a bunch of middle-aged women gossiping.” The pay is low ($2.90 an hour for most guards) and the hours can be erratic; but the work is fairly easy to get, the main requirement being a good supply of common sense; and most companies have a high turnover, so a big company like Wells Fargo, which has many contracts all over the country, can usually place a security guard in any area he or she wants to work.
“We’re trying to do away with the image of the sleepy night watchman,” said Gail Millhouse, district manager for Wells Fargo. Millhouse is himself a testimonial to how fast the industry is growing. A retired San Diego police officer (he worked narcotics), Millhouse went into the private security business and advanced from guard to district manager in about four years. “We have minimum training standards, such as guards being required to take the Powers to Arrest, Phase Two course,” he said.
The State of California now requires that guards be certified by its own Bureau of Consumer Affairs, through a special state agency called the Bureau of Collection for Investigative Services. When a person is hired by any private company as a security guard, he is required to study a pamphlet on the power to arrest and then take an open-book test. It is emphasized that a security guard’s powers to apprehend people are the same as those of any ordinary citizen; a security guard’s arrest is in fact a citizen's arrest. For state certification, the guard is then required to take a six- to eight-hour class in which the powers to arrest are examined in more detail. (The class is administered by Mira Mesa College through its criminal justice department.) A few weeks later, depending on how quickly the wheels of state government are turning that month, he receives his certification card from Sacramento.
“The tremendous growth of the bad image of guards got started in World War I and World War II, when able-bodied people were called to military service,” Millhouse said. “During the wars, people with age, motor, or mental problems became the country’s industrial security force. All the guards did was check employees’ badges in defense plants. Companies could see a problem with poorly trained, underpaid guards, and many companies developed in-house guard forces.”
San Diego companies that maintain in-house security include Solar, Rohr, General Atomic, and SDG&E. Several area hotels, such as the Islandia and the Town and Country, also maintain their own security forces rather than contracting with Wells Fargo, Pinkerton’s, or another company. Millhouse admitted that the in-house security forces tend to be “sharper in looks and intelligence,” better trained, and, of course, better paid than contract guards. Solar, for example, has a minimum starting salary of $825 a month for its security people, and many of them get more. One Wells Fargo guard who is trying to get on the SDG&E force said the security guards there make six dollars an hour. In addition, in-house guards also enjoy the same employee benefits as any other plant worker: paid vacations, sick leave, and so on. Directors of plant security at these companies report a very low turnover among their guards, who, like the contract guards, tend to be retired military and law enforcement people.
Millhouse pointed out that one possible way for a contract guard to make a higher than minimum wage is to work a post where he or she is required to carry a gun. However, throughout the security business, armed guards are being phased out.
“When they do carry guns, they get higher pay, but there is a strict state law,” he said. “Wells Fargo will not put out a guard with a gun who is not licensed by the state, and that takes six months.
“You have to justify on a local level the need to carry a weapon,” he said. “Of 400-plus guards, I don’t have one gun out now. Too many people use them as phallic symbols or in a threatening manner. But there are probably a thousand people working construction sites, especially at night, who would say, yes, we should carry weapons.”
Millhouse, although he would not name names, said many San Diego area guards are now in violation of the state’s gun regulations because they “take the course, then strap on a weapon” without waiting for the paperwork to come back from the state first. “I’ve seen everything from .44 magnums to .22 autos on guards, and several guards with shotguns,” Millhouse said. The state certification agency reported that of the more than 101,000 security guards in California, between 9000 and 11,000 are certified to carry firearms. The Sacramento representative of the agency said she had no idea how many guards are carrying guns illegally.
It is Millhouse’s opinion that guards should not carry guns, Mace, or even handcuffs. “The potentials for liability are tremendous,” he said. “The reasons for taking a life are very few, and weapons only increase the opportunity for reasons.” With 11,000 armed guards in California, Millhouse said there are “11,000 chances somebody’s going to shoot somebody and be wrong in doing it — and Lord help the company if they don’t have $27 million in liability insurance.”
Aside from gun-toting, which is a rapidly disappearing aspect of the industry, another way contract security guards can earn more money is by taking a temporary out-of-town assignment. During a recent United Farm Workers’ lettuce strike in the Imperial Valley, Wells Fargo guards were brought over from San Diego to be on hand in case trouble started. Charlie Fields was one Wells Fargo guard who went on that temporary job. “It was just a precaution, not absolutely necessary,” Fields said, “and there never was a problem.” For six weeks Fields and his fellow guards worked upwards of eighty hours a week, mostly just walking around, sometimes getting as much as $8.50 an hour with overtime, and the company picked up the tab for their room and board as well.
Although there was no problem with the farm workers, Fields reported there was a problem with an individual guard. “We had one guy who met this girl. She was driving around Calexico, which was a dropping-off spot for the workers to go back and forth to Mexico. She was a field worker but she was making extra money selling herself on the side. Anyway, he gave her his room number and then they went off to Calexico together.
“I was shift leader, and I came around that night to find he was off his post — they were in the back seat of a Vega having sex.
I didn’t want to be unreasonable; I told him why not move the car on to his post and look out the window once in a while? He told me what to go do with myself. Well, we were on overtime then, getting $8.50 an hour, and I didn't want to screw that up. So I told the supervisor and they fired him. ”
Fields’s Calexico story illuminates a basic personnel problem associated with the security business. Because the work is both unskilled and not very strenuous, and generally pays only minimum wage, companies often have difficulty getting dependable people to work for them. “We have Ph.D.’s working for us, and people from federally funded job banks who probably have trouble getting their IQ above their shoes and socks,” Millhouse said. “But if you’re adept at screening people, flexible, and intelligent enough to face problems, you won’t have any trouble with scheduling guards. As with any management system, you need alternatives to back you up. If you hit people at ten-thirty or eleven at night trying to get them to come to work, your success depends on your approach to the guard. I’ve seen two people call someone five minutes apart — one of them couldn’t get the guy on post, the other did. ”
A given company’s security budget depends on the size of the contract. Mill-house said Wells Fargo currently has $2.5 million worth of revenue in San Diego County. Industrial security budgets, however, are traditionally of the shoestring variety. At one company, the night guards were routinely told to turn off as many lights in the plant as possible, because the money the company saved that way was enough to pay Wells Fargo. “It’s changing quite a bit,” Millhouse said. “The security budget used to be only larger than the petty-cash fund. Now the companies are realizing you need incremental raises. You have to offer the guards an incentive. They need to know there’s something further down the road. Also, if you pay more than minimum wage, you can pick and choose your applicants.”
Wells Fargo pays its guards four and a half cents over minimum — $2.94 per hour. The company also offers a non-taxable uniform allowance, which Millhouse said makes it unique in the area. He said other companies are violating federal law by not having a uniform allowance, but some have other benefits, which often do not look quite so good when examined close up. “Some companies offer vacations, but they are dwindling,” he said. “With a 300 percent turnover during the year [an industry average — Wells Fargo’s figure is slightly lower], a week’s paid vacation doesn’t look so good. After all, the average guard is going to be there three months or less.”
One guard who has been with the company more than three months — she’s been there six months — is Shanda Prince. Prince, who is thirty-two years old and four feet eleven and a half inches tall (she emphasizes the “and a half,” saying, “A four-eleven adult is considered a midget”), prides herself on being the first woman guard in the county to reach the rank of sergeant in security’s paramilitary hierarchy. Sergeants make about fifteen cents an hour more than regular guards. She and her husband Mike are both guards; he is in the Marines, and was sent to San Diego for a two-week stint last spring which has now stretched to eight months. “After sitting in a duplex for a while, we started going stir crazy,” Shanda said. “I went out and got a job, first as a telephone solicitor and then as a maid. Then Mike got on with Wells Fargo. I was down there one day and saw a female uniform hanging in the closet, so I went in and applied.”
Shanda works the evening shift — 4:00 p.m. to midnight — on her regular post, downtown San Diego’s Central Federal Plaza. Her husband works the day shift — 6:00 a m. to 2:00 p.m. — on his regular post. Consequently, the Princes don’t see much of one another, and Shanda says her son and daughter, who are eight and ten respectively, have to take care of things themselves much of the time. “My children are very independent; I was quite ill when the children were very young, and they’ve gotten used to doing the washing and other things.” she said.
“When I get home, my husband is asleep. He has to get up at four. I used to get up with him. but then I couldn’t get back to sleep, so now he gets himself off to work. But we still kiss each other goodbye. The children see their father more than they see me now, but I think that makes them appreciate me more,” she said.
The people on Shanda's beat call her “Sam.” and in spite of her compact size, she commands respect from the denizens of the plaza. She tells how on her third night on the job, she rousted a drunk from the stairwell by taking his wine away from him. “They go down there and potty, shoot heroin, sniff cocaine — all sorts of things,” she said. “This guy was very nicely dressed; I thought he was going into the garage, but there he was, sitting on the stairwell. I told him he couldn’t sit there and drink his wine, and he said, ‘Now, little lady. . . .’ I hate being called ‘little lady.’ He said he was hiding from the police. I picked up his wine and went upstairs. Five minutes later he came upstairs, asked if he could have his wine back, and asked my name. I said Shanda Prince. He said, ‘Good-bye, Princess,’ took his wine, and left.”
Shanda has built up such a rapport with the people of the plaza that there are a select group of them she calls her “protectors.” Shanda’s protectors are all people she has chased off for using drugs, wine, or liquor on the premises. But they stay around, and often perform the role of deus ex machina when Shanda appears to be in trouble. “I treat these people as equals.” she said. “As long as they take it off my beat, it's fine with me. If I’m in trouble, they protect me.
“I had to force fifteen people to leave one night — they were having a pot party on the top patio. I told them to leave; they went down to the lower patio and kept smoking. I told them to leave again and they just went to another section. I told them to leave again and one girl started calling me names. I’ve been married to a Marine for twenty-two years and I never heard some of the things she called me: telling me where I could go and what I could do with myself. It looked like a fight was going to start. Then one of my protectors came up and said, ‘She’s okay, leave her alone.’ That man walked with me — I got the word later on he had talked to the girl’s old man about what she had done. She’s been back, but she’s never given me any more trouble.”
Quite different from what Millhouse calls the image of the sleepy night watchman, a security guard can sometimes be as much a “people” person as a cab driver . . . or a crisis counselor. Shanda said one night she was making a round of the patio about ten-thirty and heard a voice say, “Ma’am, can you help me?”
“It was a girl, about eighteen,” Shanda said. “Following her was a tall man, calling for her to come. I asked her if the man was bothering her, and she said, ‘Yes, he is.’ He grabbed her by the arm, and I told him to leave her alone. He grabbed her again. I got between them, and three guys I had just asked to leave the property came up and surrounded him. He said, ‘Hey, this is my woman.’ They said, ‘We understand that, but you don’t hurt the guard.’
“I took the girl upstairs, asked her if she had any money or any place to go. She said no, so I took her home and found someone for her to stay the night with. Since then, she has left him several times, but always goes back to him. Later, I saw them walking by Balboa Park together,” she laughed.
When she initially refused to, tell the man where his girlfriend was, he tried to get Shanda in trouble with her supervisor claiming that he had emergency information to give her and that Shanda would not tell him where she was. "He went and told the lady at the hotel desk that the security guard was hiding the girl so he couldn't get the information to her,” Shanda said. “I offered to take the information, but he wouldn’t give it to me. The desk called Wells Fargo, and the supervisor called me. But by then he had found her; they left McDonald’s together, arguing all the way.
“I confronted him about three weeks later when he came around,” she said. “I said, ‘You tried to get me in trouble with my supervisor, but it didn’t work. I'm still here.’ ”
Shanda Prince, having the rank of sergeant, earns slightly higher than minimum wage. But most security guards in California are contract guards, not in-house, and most are getting paid minimum, which raises the question: Why hasn’t one of the unions tried to organize them? Jim Hawes, a representative of the Service Employees’ Union Local 102, which organized the guards at the Del Mar racetrack and the crowd-control people at San Diego Stadium, explained why security guards, on the whole, are not unionized. “When the National Labor Relations Act was passed." he said, "it specifically restricted guards from joining any union.” Hawes said this was because of the General Motors strike in the late 1930s. “The guards at the plant were in with the United Auto Workers,” Hawes explained. “When the UAW went out, the guards went with them. Then they pulled a unique thing — a sit-in. They stayed in the building. And the guards were in the union, so they went along with them. Governor Murphy of Michigan had to call out the National Guard. He planted them outside and said. ‘Nobody goes in.’ Because of that, the Act was amended in 1947 to say that guards could not belong to a union that represented anyone other than guards.” The Service Employees’ Union does have the guards at the Del Mar racetrack unionized, but gets away with it only because racetracks are not under the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board. Hawes said the union’s attempts to organize guards locally have generally failed. “About fifteen months ago, we tried to organize Washington Patrol, which serves Navy bases in San Diego and Arizona. They serve the Navy electronics lab on Point Loma.” But the Navy refused to recognize the union, so the guards put up a picket line. The Navy didn’t like being picketed, and at 10:00 a.m. the NLRB called up and said if the picket line was not down by four that afternoon, they would be in court.
“We used to have FedMart, but then we were decertified,” Hawes said. ”We couldn’t get them good wages. It’s just a terrible thing.”
Hawes noted that at better than $4.50 an hour, the Del Mar racetrack guards are among the highest-paid in the county. “They sometimes get fifty-nine dollars for a seven and a half hour day,” he said proudly. Then he admitted his union had once also tried to organize the Pinkerton guards and failed. “We can organize them, but we can’t go to NLRB for an election: we have to go to the state. There is American Guard Union #1, but they don’t do much. I don’t even know where the headquarters is. As long as they can’t be AFL-CIO, there isn’t much we can do.”
A Teamster official concurred with Hawes’s gloomy conclusion. “It’s a question of jurisdiction, ” he said. “No union can represent both security and the appropriate unit, such as service and maintenance or another department at the same plant. Under the labor act, you run into conflict of interest. If one unit was on strike, security would be obliged to back up management. They have to be independent of everything; they can’t be covered by any local.”
In effect, this means security guards cannot unionize unless they are totally independent; the only way the guards can organize is to organize themselves, and that doesn’t happen very often. Nevada labor officials report that the guards at Camp Murphy, a test facility in Northern Nevada run by Reynolds Electric, have organized themselves into a “pretty militant organization. ” The same labor people said they knew of guards in Las Vegas casinos who had attempted to approach the big labor organizations but “came up against a stone wall.” The reasons are many; there are myriad problems involved with unionizing any previously unorganized group of workers, but, as one embittered security guard put it, “a lot of guards are just antiunion; jealous of each other, fighting amongst themselves, each one afraid of not getting something the other will get. ”
Unions or no unions, private security is one of the fastest-growing industries in the country. The American Society for Industrial Security, a worldwide organization of security management people with 13,000 members, reported that as of 1974, the most recent estimate, there were one million people across the United States involved in the security business, making it twice as large as law enforcement in terms of manpower. ASIS is based in Washington, D.C. According to its executive director, E.J. Criscuoli, the industry commands $4.5 billion in purchasing power for security services and equipment. “Nobody’s been able to survey the industry,” Criscuoli said. "It’s growing so strongly the department of commerce is not even looking at it right now. It’s still pretty new.” Criscuoli said the total manpower of the private security force is growing at the rate of seven to ten percent each year.
ASIS puts out a slick professional magazine. Security Management, and recently celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary with a large-scale security convention in Detroit which Criscuoli said attracted 1800 people and featured an exhibit of new security equipment reminiscent of the electronic eavesdropping carnival in Francis Ford Coppola’s Film The Conversation. Armored cars, gates, fences, alarm systems, and other sophisticated equipment were displayed, evidence of the burgeoning industry’s concern with larger, more serious issues than cutting down on industrial plant pilfering.
Criscuoli said the security industry is beginning to deal with white-collar crime and computer crime, and he cited a recent speech by Senator Abraham Ribicoff supporting a federal computer protection act. Criscuoli feels this is an important move by the government, one that gives the private security sector “a piece of legislation by which it can prosecute for misuse of data processing. ” Ribicoff's interest in the matter was stirred by the Stanley Mark Rifkin case, in which Rifkin, a computer analyst, pulled off a $10.2 million computer heist from the Security Pacific Bank of Los Angeles, and then invested the money in diamonds. (He was later arrested in Carlsbad.)
But even as the industry branches out into white-collar crime and international terrorism, the small-time problems of individual security guards — standing their posts, punching keys, checking locks, and marking time — remain largely the same. There are problems with police, who tend to resent private guards because their very existence implies a lack of confidence by business and industry in the police. There are problems with guards who think having a badge on makes them police. One ex-guard called this the Drugstore Cowboy Syndrome: “They slap on a badge, slap on a gun, and yell, Yahoo, I'm Hoot Gibson!’ ’’And there is the perennial problem of mistaken identity: one security guard, while walking down Seventh Avenue in San Diego on his way home from work late one night, was jumped from an alley by an unidentified assailant who saw his badge and mistook him for a policeman. Thereafter the guard left his uniform at work and changed back into street clothes before going home.
A company’s reasons for contracting with a security firm are various. Many companies find keeping guards on the plant twenty-four hours a day is a good way to keep insurance costs down: indeed, fire watch runs third behind intrusion protection and "shrinkage control’’ (the industry term tor petty theft) as a reason for keeping guards around. For the guards themselves, it usually implies a quiet job, mostly consisting of staying awake and now and then walking around to see if everything is where it was an hour ago, and knowing the right phone numbers to call if anything goes wrong. It is a job retired law enforcement people like because it’s the only kind of work they know; young people on the way to other jobs like it because it’s easy work both to get and to perform, and military people like because it pays their bills. It is an unglamourous job, but perhaps less so than it used to be, and as long as there is private enterprise and privately owned industry, there will doubtless be private security guards lurking around somewhere.