Private Armed Guards in Bellingham

This is not a new phenomenon in our city.

This is not a new phenomenon in our city.


About 12 years ago, I reported here on an armed guard from a private security company, G4S, hired by Bank of America's branch located at Holly St. and Cornwall Ave. (Bellingham Bank of America hires security guard) This was the time of the world-wide movement, Occupy. So in great fear and trepidation, the bank put this poor fellow (below) at its front door, armed with a revolver. Since that time, the bank has enclosed the entire entryway in glass. That will keep those 99% rabble out!

Photo: Dick Conoboy

The other day, as I walked into Home Depot, I noted an armed guard from a private security firm at the front door. Then I came home and read Ralph Schwartz's article in the Cascadia Daily News, "Bellingham stores beef up security in response to rising crime." The sight of this armed  guard, whose uniform was scarcely distinguishable from that of a real police officer,  rather shocked me because it differed in a major way from the “greeters” (mostly retirees) who used to be hired to welcome customers with a smile, a cheery “hello,” and a knowledge of where to find just about any item. Now you encounter a Barney Fife wannabe. I know that by and large these private guards are just trying to make a living, even at today's miserable minimum wage, but who wants to be remembered for taking a bullet for “the cause” — the cause being Home Depot and a $300 chainsaw? Or, for that matter, ending up killing some gun rights dilettante with an open or concealed carry license, who impulsively pulls HIS gun/HER gun. No time for chit-chat.  

Bang Bang!


So just what are the rules of engagement? My article from 12 years ago asked just that question. Nobody answered, including the police. 

"It appears the guard [at Bank of America] is only there during business hours, however, his presence raises several issues, the first of which is the problem of the "rules of engagement" under which he operates with respect to his weapon (in this case a pistol.) In other words, to what extent can he draw that pistol? What specific acts may occasion the use of deadly force? What authority does he have with respect to citizens walking on the public sidewalk? Can he ask for identification from those entering the bank? Can he search packages? Purses? Do customers have to obey his directions? Inquiring minds want to know." 

And just who are these guards? What is their training?  

The legal requirements are outlined on a page at the Washington Department of Licensing: Laws and rules: Security guards. These regulatory efforts, outlined below, do not instill confidence that these “security” hires have anywhere near the amount of training for close encounters of the deadly kind.   

"…2) All security guards licensed on or after July 1, 2005, must complete at least eight hours of preassignment training, comprised of at least four hours of classroom instruction and an additional four hours of classroom instruction or individual instruction, or both. The preassignment training may be waived for any individual who was most recently employed full time as a sworn peace officer not more than five years prior to applying to become licensed as a private security guard and who passes the examination typically administered to applicants at the conclusion of the preassignment training.

(3)(a) All security guards licensed on or after July 1, 2005, must complete at least eight hours of initial postassignment training that shall be administered to each security guard. The initial postassignment training must be in the topic areas established by the director and may be classroom instruction or individual instruction, or both. A company may waive the initial postassignment training for security guards already licensed who transfer from another company, if the security guard presents appropriate training records signed by a department-certified trainer from the previous company, or a signed affidavit that the individual has already completed the required initial postassignment training provided by his or her previous company."   [Chapter 18.170 RCW SECURITY GUARDS]

Two days (2x8 hrs.) of training plus some sort of licensing from the “commission” to carry a gun. One could do a one hour stand-up comedy routine with this. Then the recruit must undergo a local law enforcement agency check and a fingerprint check with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. My apologies, but I am not making this up. That is all it takes to be an armed security guard who is ostensibly ready to deal with the public in challenging confrontations. Consider then that police officers, who must receive months and months of training through a police academy,  still fuck up relations with the public with deadly results.  

This from the San Francisco standard on 4 May 2023:  Walgreens Killing: Here’s What We Know About Banko Brown’s Shooting by a Security Guard

Banko Brown

"Banko Brown, 24, was unarmed when the security guard shot and killed him outside the drugstore near Market and Fourth streets last Thursday [27 April 2023]  Police Chief Bill Scott told the Police Commission on Wednesday.

“An altercation broke out when the security guard, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, tried to stop Brown for shoplifting, the chief said. Anthony, 33, was still inside the store when Brown stepped outside and turned toward him. Brown then allegedly spit on the security guard and raised his arm toward him before Anthony drew his gun and fired, Scott said.” 

Try to steal a candy bar, spit, and raise your hand. Summary punishment: Death. Conclusion: Don't mess with Barney Fife.

About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

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