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By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — Royal Oak Township resident Mckenzie Cochran, 24, died Jan. 28 at the hands of three security guards at Northland Mall in Southfield. A mobile video shows the three mall cops holding down a hand-cuffed Cochran, pressing his chest against the floor — one has his knee in Cochran’s back — after pepper spraying him.

Cochran can be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” One of the guards responds, “If you can talk, you can breathe.” The Southfield Police Department is still conducting an investigation and no arrests or charges have been made at the time of publication. Cochran’s family attorney Gerald Thurswell told the Michigan Citizen, regardless of charges being filed, the family will file a wrongful death lawsuit. It isn’t clear if the guards are still working. Northland general manager Brent Reetz told reporters Cochran became “combative” when approached by the guards, who are employed by the privately-owned Universal Protection Service of Santa Ana, Calif.

A week earlier, Jan. 22, a video of 17-year-old Detroit high school student-athlete Jayru Campbell “body slamming” a school security guard went viral. Some say the video shows Campbell attacking the 20-something-year-old white guard, however, a second video showing a shove by both the guard and the teen tells a different story. The videos also show two other security guards close by who watched the interaction between Campbell and the young guard without intervening. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said when announcing charges against the youth, Feb. 11, “he allegedly became profane, picked the officer up and slammed him on the floor,” when asked to remove his hood inside the school building. Worthy charged Campbell with a felony assault to do great bodily harm and a misdemeanor of aggravated assault. Campbell faces 10 years in prison.

Another video surfaced recently of an incident at Marquette Middle School. Last year, a security guard dragged a young girl down the hallway — in a headlock — and body slammed her twice.

Thomas Stallworth

Thomas Stallworth

Legislators, Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, Rep. Rudy Hobb, D-Southfield and Rep. Thomas Stallworth II, D-Detroit have responded by proposing legislation for privatized security forces. The lawmakers say there is a lack of training regulations for guards with private security firms.

Rudy Hobbs

Rudy Hobbs

“There are hundreds of private security guards working in our schools and businesses throughout our communities and most do a good job,” Johnson said in a statement. “However, violent encounters are happening too often and the fact that there are virtually no prerequisites or training requirements for individuals charged with keeping us safe is unacceptable.”

Bert Johnson

Bert Johnson

Johnson told the Michigan Citizen although it’s speculative, had laws been in place regulating security guards, “there would have been a blatant violation” on behalf of the Northland mall cops.

“When a person says, ‘I cannot breathe,’ that cannot be ignored or overlooked,” he said. “There would be some punitive measures taken against people who violate those protocols.”

Johnson said regulations would give the community and guards a more clear indication of what guards are supposed to do and what communities can expect, and what happens when the law is violated.

“What you want to do is put a buffer between people who go rogue,” he said. “That could be the community, that could be the security guard and you want to prevent these things from happening.”

Johnson’s bills will require employees of private security firms to obtain basic training in key areas associated with protecting people in public places, including the power to arrest, crisis intervention, threat assessment, the use of force and conflict management.

Reps. Hobbs and Stallworth’s legislation called the Safe Security Guard Act would also establish basic training requirements for security guards with private security firms.

“This is the fourth incident where we had a citizen, who was unarmed, killed, and in this case, committed no crime and posed no imminent threat,” Stallworth says. “Michigan is one of seven states that have no regulations that require certification and establish training for guards, even when they’re armed.”

Stallworth says establishing this protocol is critical to protect the public. Failing to do so endangers the guards and the public, he says.

At a press conference Hobbs said, “Michigan residents need to know they can trust security guards employed at businesses throughout the state and believe they are capable of protecting them.”

Hobbs said to do their jobs effectively, they need training in lifesaving techniques, the proper use of force and how to handle difficult situations.

The Safe Security Guard Act would require individuals be trained in all of the following areas before being allowed to work as a security guard:

  • Proper use of tasers, pepper spray and other self-defense devices and agents
  • Legal aspects of the security guard business and the use of force
  • Customer service issues, including, but not limited to, working with and addressing the public
  • First aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and foreign body obstruction of the airway
  • Emergency preparedness

The laws would apply anywhere there is private security.

Former DPS officer says EM is the difference

The 300 Detroit Public Schools public safety officers terminated by former DPS Emergency Manger Robert Bobb all received racial sensitivity training, law classes, and had ties to the community, says one former PSO.

Jose Herrera worked for the district for eight years as a public safety officer before being fired by Bobb, who brought in the Swedish private security firm Securitas in 2010.

Herrera told the Michigan Citizen training is the key to providing public safety. He and other guards received at least six weeks of training prior to emergency management.

“Our training was very extensive, like the police academy,” says Herrera. “It consisted of law classes; you had to know the law.”

Herrera said PSOs also had racial sensitivity classes.

“Because in the district, you have several different ethnicities.” He added that officers were trained in how to deal with children who displayed repeated behavioral problems.

Herrera, who grew up in southwest Detroit, says the officers were familiar with students who had challenges. “Some were in pretty bad conditions.”

“It’s all in the training,” he said, referring to how to deal with students.

“We had respect for a lot of the communities, because there were officers who had been there, who knew the generation of families. So whenever conflict would happen, we were able to break down a lot of that.”

While Herrera says the video he saw of Campbell shows a student assault a guard, he acknowledges we don’t know what happened to initiate the confrontation or what happened after.

“The thing is to get the student in a controlled environment. You don’t want to get into it with a kid with a bunch of kids around,” which he said could escalate situations. In these cases, principals would be called.

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