Civil Rights Protesters Confront Modern-Day Pinkertons
Contract Security Guards Working for the Department of Homeland Security Are Part of the Law Enforcement Response to Recent Protests
Thousands of contract security guards, essentially rent-a-cops, employed by the Department of Homeland Security to secure some 125 federal buildings in the Washington, D.C., area are now engaging civil rights protesters in the city as part of a federal law enforcement response allegedly under the command of Attorney General William Barr.
These contract security personnel have long been part of the Federal Protective Service (FPS), which is under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These contract guards are deployed at the more than 9,000 federal facilities nationwide.
There are some 13,000 security guards nationwide employed by FPS via contracts with private security firms, with about a third of them — 5,000 to 6,000 — based in the Washington, D.C. area, according to the most recently available figures. Via contracts with FPS, more than 50 private security firms provide guards — referred to as protective security officers — to the agency in the Washington, D.C., area alone.
Among the responsibilities of these contract guards is to assist federal law enforcers with crowd control as needed.
“As symbols of government, federal facilities are often the place where citizens congregate to express their concerns about an issue, often in the form of mass demonstrations or protests,” DHS’ website says in describing FPS. “When this happens, FPS law enforcement officers are on-site to ensure that all citizens can express themselves in a safe and peaceful manner. When demonstrations start to become violent against others, or disruptive to government operations, FPS officers will step in to regain the peace.”
A manual for security guards produced by FPS includes an entire chapter on handling “civil disturbances,” such as the protests now occurring across the nation, including Washington, D.C., over racial injustice — sparked by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
“You may be required to take actions to control crowds during civil disturbances,” states the FPS manual, published in 2008 and marked “For Official Use Only.” “You also may be required to assist law enforcement personnel during such situations.
“…There may be times in your job when you will be confronted with situations that present a danger to you, other people or to federal property. When this happens, you may need to exercise a degree of ‘force’ to control the situation.”
There is a major problem, however, with using these FPS contract guards — who are supposed to be limited to patrolling and securing federal facilities and grounds — in long-running “civil disturbances” like those unfolding now in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere around the country. The FPS has a long history of failing to properly vet and adequately monitor and ensure that these guards have proper training and certifications, including proper firearms training. That lack of training can pose a great risk to the safety of protestors and the law enforcers they work with alike should a situation become heated.
“Although FPS agreed with GAO’s [U.S. Government Accountability Office’s] 2012 recommendations that it develop a comprehensive and reliable system for managing information on guards’ training, certifications and qualifications, it still does not have such a system,” states a 2014 GAO report. “Additionally, 23 percent of the 276 contract guard files GAO reviewed did not have required training and certification documentation.”
Past GAO reports between 2009 and 2014 on the FPS security guard program have uncovered guards with felony convictions; a large percentage of guard files examined with at least one expired certification, including a declaration they have not been convicted of domestic violence; and multiple security-guard files that were missing documentation on weapons training, among other issues.
In fact, in 2017, an FPS security guard was arrested for violating the civil rights of an individual visiting a federal building.
“Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: ‘The Federal Protective Service’s mission is to protect federal facilities, including employees and visitors,’ ” a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice states. “But in this case, we’ve alleged, an innocent visitor needed protection from a violent and unprovoked attack by a [FPS] protective security officer, which fractured the visitor’s ribs. [The officer] then allegedly lied about the incident, falsely claiming the victim was disruptive and required removal from the building.”
The Washington Times reported on a 2014 GAO report on FPS’ woes as follows:
The FPS is so inept that the Department of Homeland Security will no longer use the agency to protect its own headquarters, said Rep. Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania Republican. He is the chairman of the House Transportation subcommittee on federal buildings, which requested the GAO audit of the agency.
For the private security firms that provide contract guards to FPS, it can be a lucrative business. FPS had a fiscal 2019 budget of $1.6 billion, with contract guard services representing the largest single expense in that budget, according to federal reports and congressional testimony.
Although current contract information was not immediately available, past examples include a 2015 contract between FPS and the COGAR Group Ltd. inked in 2005 and valued in total at $102 million to provide “armed protection security officers for federal facilities” in south Florida. FPS also signed a pact in 2013 with another private security firm, Paragon Systems Inc., to provide security guards for federal owned and leased properties in Ohio that had a total contract ceiling of $93.4 million.
Within the past week, Paragon ran an online advertisement seeking to hire a security guard for the FPS to provide “proactive patrols of DOJ property.” Paragon officials did not respond to a phone call seeking comment. Likewise, two of the country’s major labor organizations representing security guards, the United Government Security Officers Of America International Union and the Law Enforcement Officers Security Unions also did not respond to contacts seeking comment for this story.
Next year, FPS will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Since, 9/11 however, the agency has been a bit of a hot potato inside the federal law enforcement bureaucracy, which may account for some of its dysfunction.
FPS was housed under the U.S. General Services Administration, which manages federal properties, until 2003, when it was moved under the umbrella of U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE), which is part of DHS. Then, in 2009, it was moved again, to DHS’ National Protection and Programs Directorate.
“GAO has reported that FPS faced challenges in each location,” a 2019 GAO report states.“Legislation enacted in November 2018 requires DHS to review placement options for FPS and could result in FPS moving again within DHS or to another executive branch agency.”
Meanwhile, despite the FPS dysfunction and documented history of failing to adequately oversee and ensure adequate training for its contract security guards, thousands of them are currently deployed at federal properties in Washington, D.C., and around the nation. They are now charged with assisting federal law enforcers from a host of agencies in keeping the peace during an ongoing, historic protest movement where lives are at stake.
Among the federal buildings in Washington, D.C., that fall under FPS’ purview is the Lafayette Building, which is a U.S. General Services Administration-managed property that houses the U.S. Export-Import Bank and offices for the Department of Veterans Affairs, among other tenants. It is one of many federal owned or maintained buildings surrounding Lafayette Park — the site where a large group of peaceful protestors were recently cleared by law enforcers clad in riot gear making use of flash-bang grenades and chemical agents. The June 1 action was taken on alleged orders from Attorney General Barr to allow President Donald Trump to walk through Lafayette Park near the White House for a propaganda photo shoot at a nearby church.
A video is circulating on social media platforms showing a phalanx of law enforcers guarding the Lafayette Building. A number of the law enforcers, all clad in tactical gear, have no badges, insignia or names on their uniforms, leading some commenters, including Republican political strategist Steve Schmidt of the Lincoln Project, to question whether they are some kind of “secret police.”
One possible explanation is that they are not secret police, but rather FPS contract security guards ordered to provide perimeter security for the Lafayette Building.
If that’s the case, FPS spokesperson Robert Sperling isn’t saying, at least directly. His response to questions about the role FPS contract guards are playing in Washington, D.C., with respect to the protests: “The Federal Protective Service protective security officers are manning their posts and do not have authority or jurisdiction beyond federal property.”
Sperling failed to respond to the following questions sent to him in a follow-up email:
Mr. Sperling, your response to my questions was incomplete, so let me rephrase each question again in detail.
1. Your email says that FPS officers are “manning their posts.” Is that a confirmation that they have been deployed to protect federal property during this past week’s protests in Washington, D.C.?
2. How many additional officers have been deployed in Washington, D.C., during a time when federal agents and contractors guarding federal property have repeatedly come into direct contact with protesters.
3. How many FPS officers are currently deployed in Washington, D.C.? And how many on average were deployed there last month?
4. In their jurisdiction on federal property in Washington, D.C., have FPS officers engaged in direct contact with demonstrators this past week, and if so, at which federal properties?
5. Lafayette Park was the scene of [a recent] confrontation between federal officers and protesters. How many FPS officers were deployed there, if any, and how many, if any, when the park was cleared prior to the president’s appearance in front of a nearby church?
6. Did FPS officers make any of the arrests that occurred that day? Did any FPS officers and/or contract guards deploy teargas or mace?
7. And since protecting federal property in Washington at present is regularly involving direct confrontations with protesters, have any FPS officers deployed there been given additional training or instructions in crowd control and civil rights protocols to prepare them for possible confrontations?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also is awaiting answers to similar questions directed to the Trump administrations about the larger federal response to the protests in Washington, D.C.
“We are concerned about the increased militarization and lack of clarity that may increase chaos,” Pelosi states in a letter sent on June 4 to President Trump. “I am writing to request a full list of the agencies involved and clarifications of the roles and responsibilities of the troops and federal law enforcement resources operating in the city.
“Congress and the American people need to know who is in charge, what is the chain of command, what is the mission, and by what authority….”
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser also sent a letter to President Trump on June 4 requesting that he “withdraw all extraordinary federal law enforcement and military presence from Washington, D.C.”
“I continue to be concerned that unidentified federal personnel patrolling the streets of Washington, D.C., pose both safety and national security risks,” Bowser’s letter continues. “The deployment of federal law enforcement personnel and equipment are inflaming demonstrators and adding to the grievances of those who, by and large, are peacefully protesting for change and for reforms to the racist and broken systems that are killing Black Americans.”
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