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The security firm Tempe hired to patrol its parks has a checkered past

By: - November 2, 2018 11:33 am

Photo courtesy Elliot Brown

Recently the City of Tempe voted to place armed security guards in some parks as part of a pilot program in response to residents who told the city they felt unsafe in the parks.

The response by residents has been divisive, to say the least. A recent Facebook post by the city about the program had comments ranging from support to some saying they’ll never visit a Tempe park again.

The city voted unanimously to spend $250,000 to hire London-based security firm G4S on a rare Monday night meeting, apparently because there was an Arizona State University football game on Thursday night, when the council usually meets.

Media reports on the vote focused primarily on the criminal behavior some residents had been reporting in the parks that led the council to its decision.

However, one thing that got lost in the discussion is G4S’s history of controversy and the growing trend of cities hiring private security firms to do what would normally be a job for the police.

The company, which employs 570,000 worldwide, even has its own dedicated Wikipedia page detailing some of its controversies.

Most notably was the controversy surrounding its management of Birmingham Prison in England.

In December 2016, some 600 prisoners at the for-profit Birmingham Prison run by G4S rioted for the fourth time in six weeks. Inmates broke into private records, read them and then destroyed them.

In the weeks leading up to the riot, nearly 30 guards had quit. High turnover is something many former employees have complained about on the company’s Glassdoor account.

After investigations into the riots, the company’s seven-year-long contract was revoked in August 2018. An official who visited the prison during a routine inspection said it had the worst conditions he had ever seen.

The Birmingham Prison mismanagement may not be similar to patrolling parks, but it is not where G4S’s controversies stop.

Pulse Nightclub shooter Omar Mateen had worked for the private security firm. It was found later that the person who had allegedly cleared Mateen had never actually met him and had not even lived in Florida at the time.

G4S called it a “clerical error.”

Additionally, in June 2017, G4S was hired to cover shortages at a CoreCivic prison in Tennessee, but multiple G4S employees were unable to pass background checks.

Tempe has said that the guards being used in its pilot program are former Tempe Police Officers.

But as reported by the Arizona Republic last year, officers with histories of disciplinary actions against them often move from department or department or move to the private sector.

One such incident has already reared its head in Tempe courts, where G4S has already had contracts with the city.

JJ Johnson posted on Facebook shortly after the council decision a picture he had sent to Tempe Police and the council of an issue with a G4S guard in 2016.

The guard, who previously worked for the Arizona Department of Public Safety and was fired for shoplifting while on duty, had positioned his taser and firearm on the same side.

Normally, police are trained to keep them on seperate sides to avoid an incident where an officer may grab his gun when he intends to reach for a stun gun.

In Kansas this year, an incident with an officer there had that exact scenario happen.

“Oh shit, I shot him,” Lawrence Police Officer Brindley Blood said after shooting Akira Shaunell Lewis with her side arm when she thought she was reaching for her stun gun, according to court records.

Then there is the history of use-of-force incidents by G4S security guards, who will be armed with Tasers and handguns in Tempe.

In 2010, three G4S security guards held down Angolan deportee Jimmy Mubenga on a flight departing Heathrow. Passengers on the plane heard Mubenga scream things like “don’t do this” and “they’re trying to kill me.”

Mubenga was transported to a hospital where he later died.

His death is not the only reported case of excessive force by the company, and the UK isn’t the only place where G4S has faced controversy.

The company was involved in a controversy around one of its youth detention facilities in Florida, as well.

Three former top administrators for the company at the Highland Park Youth Academy in Florida were arrested and charged this year with, among other things, extreme physical abuse; tampering with, falsifying and destroying records; intimidation of employees to prevent them from reporting criminal activity; and sex with children in their care.

One administrator, Johnny Hart, allegedly grabbed a teen who had already been restrained, threw him to the ground and “pummeled” him, leading to the boy being hospitalized. Hart weighed 275 pounds at the time.

Other controversies include: Attaching an electronic monitoring device to a man’s prosthetic limb unbeknownst to him, security breaches at military bases, lax security of US nuclear power plants, fraud allegations, police telephone and data manipulation, and secretly electronically tagging individuals who were either dead or in prison.

All these issues have left some Tempe residents, like former city council candidate Justin Stewart, worried about how things will unfold.

“It’s only a matter of time before someone gets shot,” Stewart said in a Facebook thread about the decision.

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.