Oregon Aug 18 2017 The state wants the power to order medical exams for armed security guards who are suspected of having emotional problems that endanger public safety.
Under a proposed rule, the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training would be able to act if it received information that a private security officer poses that serious of a risk. The department adopted the rule temporarily on June 23 and is looking to make it permanent.
The change stops short of allowing regulators to immediately disarm guards or to suspend their certifications. The rule applies only to armed security guards and private security firearms instructors, and not to other public safety workers subject to state licensing, such as police officers and corrections officers.
"We're not taking anybody's weapon away from them," Linsay Hale, the department's professional standards director, said during a public meeting this week. "That is a whole other discussion."
The information about a potential risk to public safety must come from a government agency. The department would then decide whether to order an exam and to open a review of the private security officer's certification.
In an email interview, Hale would not say what prompted the rule change.
The move comes amid a high-profile case in Deschutes County involving an unarmed private security guard charged in the death of a 23-year-old Central Oregon Community College student. Edwin Lara, 32, who worked for the college, is accused of aggravated murder in Kaylee Sawyer's death.
A lawsuit filed in federal court last month by Sawyer's family alleges that Lara's employer did not do enough to find out information about his past, including that he had failed psychological evaluations while applying for police jobs. The college is also accused of allowing private security officers to masquerade as cops. The state suspended Lara's certification after he was charged last July.
The department used an emergency procedure to put in place the new rule, which is currently set to expire at the end of the year. To make sure the department keeps the power to intervene, the rule change was presented to a committee of private security professionals and private investigators this week. They voted unanimously Tuesday to move forward with making the rule permanent. The top authority, the department's board, could approve a permanent rule in October.
The public first has the opportunity to comment. Information will be posted on the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training website. If the department receives comments, the private security committee will take them up at its next meeting.
The rule doesn't set emotional standards or outline in detail the process a security officer would go through if identified as a potential risk. Some members of the committee were hesitant to support a permanent rule change with so many questions still unanswered.
Fred Kuest, security operations manager with Portland Public Schools, was among those who wanted to see more specifics, including what kind of doctor would do the evaluation, how quickly the department would take action and what the appeal process would allow.
"Could it be that somebody has a temporary mental health crisis or whatnot, and then things get better?" Kuest asked. "I think people have tragic things that happen to them in their lives, and that may be for a very tiny short window, and then this process starts and then they're back normal, but now this whole process is kicking and going down the road."
Others were concerned the rule change might give the impression that the department has more authority to intervene than it actually does.
Steven Swenson, a private investigator and former captain at the Eugene Police Department, called on his police experience for perspective.
"We used to bring people in that threatened suicide, they would get a four-hour look-over by a psychiatrist, and they'd say, 'We don't think this person is an imminent threat,' and they would kick them out the door," Swenson said. "I'm concerned that if that were to happen here, all we've created is an illusion that we're doing something."
Hale told committee members the state would contract with a medical provider. But she wouldn't say whom, or whether the person would be a psychologist or psychiatrist. She said the person examining a security guard would be familiar with the criteria for whether someone is fit for duty.
Several members expressed concern that the process could be used to retaliate against guards in personal disputes and asked whether anonymous information would be accepted. Hale said that the department would vet information and that the department's legal threshold for ordering a mental evaluation is high. The department would have to show by a preponderance of evidence that a security officer "poses a serious risk to public health and safety."
Hale told the committee that the department does not have a similar rule for any other public safety profession. That confused Kuest, the security operations manager with Portland Public Schools.
"Did I understand you correctly to say that no other disciplines in DPSST have this procedure in place?" Kuest asked.
"Correct," Hale replied.
Kuest said he thought that private security would mirror the standards for police and corrections officers.
"So if law enforcement doesn't have it, and corrections doesn't have it, why are we looking at it for private security?" Kuest asked.
The big difference, Hale said, is that police and corrections officers work for government agencies, where there are more layers of accountability.
Hale promised a more thorough discussion of emotional health standards in the future.