A new law makes California’s oversight over the booming guard industry one of the strongest in the country. Credit: Sarah Rice for Reveal

When security guard Teng Xiong shot a Stockton, California, teen in the jaw several years ago, he expected someone would hold him accountable. He thought police would arrest him. He was traumatized. He reported himself to state regulators.

But regulators never talked to Xiong. Instead, the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, the agency that licenses armed guards in California, filed the report away and let him keep his firearm permit. He continued to work as a guard.

This sort of indifference in California, which boasts the largest population of armed security guards in the country, may finally come to an end with reforms signed into law today by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sponsored by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, the bill was spurred by an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting that found regulators in California and many other states frequently license armed guards who are poorly trained, mentally unstable and prone to violence. Even after receiving a shooting report, many state regulators failed to take action unless the guards were convicted of crimes.

We found California regulators failed to investigate security guard shootings, permitted guards who used excessive force to keep their gun permits and allowed fraudulent companies to keep their licenses.

“Someone carrying a gun is a very serious act,” Hill said. “What we had in place before was not adequate to protect the public. We needed to really put some teeth behind the regulations, so that we know the type of training they’re getting, that they are trained to use their weapons, and that they are mentally prepared to carry those weapons, and to use them.”

Armed guards should “be appropriately tested, examined and investigated in a way that makes sure the public is protected from them,” he said. “That to me is what the governor recognized.”

The new law makes California’s oversight over the booming guard industry one of the strongest in the country. Among a raft of changes, it requires state regulators to take action against an armed guard if he or she is found to be mentally unstable, violent or a threat to public safety. Previously, regulators only took action upon a criminal conviction.

It also requires armed security guards to pass a mental-health evaluation – a standard for police officers across the country – if they want to carry a gun on the job.

Under the law, regulators are now able to take immediate action against armed guards if someone reports unstable or threatening behavior. Both security companies and security guards are now required to report the firing of a gun to the state, and face increased penalties if they don’t. And it requires state regulators to inspect firearm-training facilities.

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

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Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

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. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. 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 based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.