Can Private Security Guards Act As Cops?
That's Exactly What They May Soon Be Doing On The Far South Side

CBS | March 24, 2009

CHICAGO (CBS) - They're private security guards, already on patrol, but they may soon have the powers of Chicago Police officers.

As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the private security officers now on patrol on the city's Far South Side are expected to have their powers expanded as part of a citywide ordinance now being prepared.

But officials are questioning whether this means public safety is being outsourced.

But officials are questioning whether this means public safety is being outsourced.

Mayor Richard M. Daley has already privatized many city functions. The Chicago Skyway has been leased to a Spanish conglomerate. Midway Airport is run by a Canadian company. The parking meters were sold to a firm run by Morgan Stanley, and as a result, the cost of parking in the city has skyrocketed.

But the question is whether another foreign firm providing cops on patrol may be privatization gone too far.

A single squad car, marked "special patrol," cruises up and down a small commercial strip on far south Michigan Avenue tonight. Its patrol area is between 100th and 116th streets, and area merchants have their doubts.

"As good as they may be, I don't think they probably have all the training that a policeman would have," said business owner Howard Bolling.

But the security guards are not supposed to replace Chicago Police officers, according to the alderman writing the ordinance. He said the enforcement powers of the private security group would remain highly limited.

"No traffic violations such as moving violations such as moving violations. Small things illegally parked, blocking the parking," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th).

That wasn't exactly what Mayor Daley thought when he was asked about it on Saturday. He said the security force would have the power to enforce "moving violations and citations including loitering, littering and graffiti."

This means they're still working on it. But Beale was asked what would happen when they security officers tried to detain someone who didn't want to be detained and didn't respect their authority as they would a police officer's.

"Next thing you know, guns are drawn, and you have a real problem," Levine posited.

Replied Beale: "I'm not going to say what the future may hold. We can all predict unforeseen situations."

Mayor Daley said the city would benefit from the extra patrols.

"It's not a bad idea. You maybe have to refine it, but it's not a bad idea," the mayor said.

With Chicago Police stretched so thin, just having a few extra cars and extra uniforms is comforting to some people. The J. Carolina Hosiery store, for example, was robbed 14 times in the last year.

"The stores are being robbed, and then they're getting extorted, and you have the little gangbangers running in and out of stores trying to rob people," said store supervisor Larry McCullough.

Since the private security patrols arrived, the robberies have continued, "but it's slowing down, because it seems like more of the stores have to have their own guns and their own security."

In addition to the Fraternal Order of Police being against it, experts tell CBS 2 that asking private security guards to conduct police functions is dangerous, and potentially fatal, with most security guards paid much less and receive less training. Chicago's Police Supt. Jody Weis calls it all a work in progress.

"Let's be creative," Weis said. "If we can have police officers focusing on higher priority cases, it's worth talking about."

CBS 2 wanted to ask the Toronto-based firm which was the lowest bidder for contracts in the 9th and 10th wards about the background and training of its officers. Also in question was is how much experience the Canadian company has with the inner city problems which make the Roseland community a challenge for even the most streetwise Chicago Police professionals. The firm has not yet returned calls.