Last weekend, actor Kevin James, also known as “Paul Blart: Mall Cop,” joined 100 security guards in setting a new world record. The feat? The most simultaneous 360-degree turns on a Segway.

Ingenious publicity stunt for a mediocre movie? Yes. Totally harmless? Maybe not.

With the sequel to the popular movie opening today, many security guards are cringing over James’ perpetual antics as a bumbling, portly, mustachioed wannabe cop. The trope has become a mainstay on television and film, much to the chagrin of many in the profession.

“I challenge Kevin James to work alongside genuine retail security officers for just one day,” Bud Bradley, a vice president at AlliedBarton Security Services, wrote in a recent op-ed for PennLive.

Besides Paul Blart, there was “Observe and Report,” starring Seth Rogen. Before that, “Night at the Museum,” with Ben Stiller. Even reality television has found a place for the down-and-out security guard: “Small Town Security” on AMC features a family-run security company in rural Georgia. The tagline on an advertisement for the show: “Armed and dangerously funny.”

That hasn’t sat well.

“As a security professional, I am asking that each of you stand with us and demand that these negative reality shows cease the slanderous and demeaning portrayal of our profession,” Rick McCann, founder of the security guard group Private Officer International, wrote after the premiere of “Small Town Security” in 2012.

Security guards on the big and small screens constantly flout their patrols, sleep on the job, watch television instead of the surveillance cameras, eat gigantic sandwiches and almost always seem unprepared in the face of a heist, a takeover or a conniving flirt.

But the portrayals belie a harrowing reality: It’s one of the country’s most dangerous professions, with guards at a higher risk of violent injury on the job than the police.

In 2013, 65 percent of all security guards who died on the job were killed by assault, versus 44 percent for police, according to fatal occupational injury data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Police officers also saw a lower rate of shooting deaths. Of guards who died on the job, 46 percent were shot. Among police who died on the job, that rate was 29 percent.

A security guard “is much more likely to have a physical encounter” than a police officer, said Pat Alexander, a firearms and private security trainer in Sacramento, California. “Because the average thug on the street knows he’s just a security officer, he’s not a police officer. If he hits him, he’s not assaulting a police officer. Also, if he hits him, he’s not going to face 50 more of him showing up in the next five minutes.”

Kevin James (center), star of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” joins security guards to successfully set two Guinness World Record titles on Segways.
Kevin James (center), star of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,” joins security guards to successfully set two Guinness World Record titles on Segways. Credit: PRNews/Sony Pictures Entertainment Credit: PRNews/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Guards who don’t face violent injury do face other risks, as some real reality media accounts show. A recent StoryCorps interview featured Rick Abath, a former overnight security guard who fell victim to the biggest art heist in history.

In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, Abath let two men dressed like police officers into Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

“They said, ‘Are you here alone?’ ” Abath said in the StoryCorps recording. “And I said, ‘I have a partner that’s out on a round.’ They said, ‘Call him down.’ And they said, ‘Gentlemen, this is a robbery.’ ”

According to Abath, the burglars duct-taped his eyes, chin and head and left him handcuffed to an electrical box for seven hours. They took nearly half a billion dollars’ worth of artwork, including three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Manet and several sketches by Degas. The burglary has never been solved, and Abath has never gotten over it.

“More than anything else, I’m angry about it,” he said. “I’d like to be remembered for the good things I’ve done. I’m a husband, a father of two really cool kids. … It’s the kind of thing most people don’t have to learn to cope with. It’s like doing penance. It’s always there.”

In the first “Mall Cop,” Paul Blart encounters a happier ending. Faced with a brazen mall takeover, Blart becomes a hero and saves the day, often relying on his trusty Segway. In the end, he beats out the local bully – a pen kiosk salesman – and even gets the girl.

James himself may even have some awareness of the criticisms of real security guards. When asked where he drew his inspiration for the role, James told Variety magazine: “A bunch of the security guards I saw growing up and just feeling for them, that they have to uphold justice and they don’t get the respect, unfortunately.”

This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Nikki Frick.

Shoshana Walter can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

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Shoshana Walter was a senior reporter and producer at Reveal, covering the criminal justice and child welfare systems. She's working on a book for Simon & Schuster about the failures of our country's addiction treatment system. At Reveal, she reported on exploitative drug rehab programs that require participants to work without pay, armed security guards, and sex abuse and trafficking in the marijuana industry. Her reporting has prompted new laws, numerous class-action lawsuits and government investigations. Her stories have been named finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, Selden Ring and National Magazine Awards. She has also been honored with the Livingston Award for National Reporting, the IRE medal, the Edward R. Murrow award, the Knight Award for Public Service, a Loeb Award and Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting. Her Reveal podcast, "American Rehab," was named one of the best podcasts of the year by The New Yorker and The Atlantic and prompted a congressional investigation.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is a fellow with the Watchdog Writers Group at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and is based in Oakland, California.