Armed security guards in San Francisco may soon be barred from drawing their firearms in response to property theft, after an ordinance to amend the police code, prompted by the killing of Banko Brown, was passed by a Board of Supervisors committee today.
“I believe strongly that nobody should ever have to die just because they are suspected of stealing property,” said District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston, who introduced the ordinance earlier this summer in response to the killing of 24-year-old Banko Brown, an unarmed transgender man who was shot dead in April during an altercation with a Walgreens security guard. Brown had allegedly shoplifted some $15 worth of snacks.
After the killing, it was revealed that the security firm that employed shooter Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony had recently instructed its guards to be more hands-on in their approach to shoplifting.
Preston, who presented his legislation to the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee, said he was “dismayed” to find that Article 25 of the city’s police code allowed for armed security guards to draw their firearms to protect property, unlike local police and security guards around the state. The article was last amended in 1981.
The three moderate members of the public safety committee, Catherine Stefani, Matt Dorsey and Joel Engardio, agreed with Preston.
“It makes no sense whatsoever that we would have a different standard that would be more permissive for property, when sworn officers have more rigorous standards,” said Dorsey who, before becoming District 6 supervisor, was a spokesperson for the police department.
The police code currently states that armed security guards may draw or exhibit their firearms in response to a threat to “person and/or property” — a more lenient standard than that for San Francisco police officers. The police department only allows officers to draw their firearms when there is a “specific and articulable threat of serious bodily injury or death.”
State law is also more restrictive than San Francisco’s current rules, Preston noted today: The firearms training manual for the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services only allows for guards to remove their weapons from their holster when there is an “imminent danger to life.”
Engardio asked to be added as a co-sponsor to the ordinance, and even suggested that security guards should not necessarily be armed at all.
Stefani, the committee chair, said she has separately been looking into creating more oversight of private security guards in the city, and expressed concern, considering that San Francisco has about five times as many private security guards as police officers.
She called the language and provisions in the police code “extremely archaic” and in need of updating.
“Your legislation, Supervisor Preston, is … an important step toward that end,” Stefani said.
Brown’s killing in April galvanized weeks of protest, culminating in a review of the shooting by California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Preston’s legislation today.
Banko Brown and the security guard, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, had gotten into a physical altercation when Brown tried to exit the mid-Market Walgreens. Brown appeared to be retreating from the store when Anthony shot him. The District Attorney’s Office said Anthony was acting in self defense and declined to charge him with any crime. Bonta’s review is still ongoing.
Geoffrea Morris, a director of the Black Women Revolt Against Domestic Violence, who has helped advocate for the legislation, said she will work next to promote legislation to remove armed guards from grocery and convenience stores altogether.
“Human lives should always weigh more than property,” she said.