Private security guards are ubiquitous these days. They silently survey the public in stores, on sidewalks, in schools, on campuses, in malls, at apartments and in hotel lobbies.
For 20 years, Street Roots vendors have watched the proliferation of private security forces on our streets, and they have strong opinions about their ac- tions in the community. Some vendors interviewed for this article expressed a sense of comfort and security when private guards are around. Others were frustrated at being told to move or threatened with arrest after months, or years, selling Street Roots at what they had understood was a legal post. Some said they think private guards overstep their jurisdiction when they remove people from sidewalks and doorways. Others said they think they target the homeless based on appearance, both inside stores and outside on public sidewalks. A few reported violent incidents in which they were physically threatened or harmed by guard patrols at night, with only their word to back them up. Private security guards do not wear body cameras. Brian Hibler said he feels the increased presence of private security whenever he’s in major stores, such as Fred Meyer or Safeway.
“They follow me around when I walk in,” Hibler said. “It depends on how you are dressed, how you look that day, if you have a backpack. I was in Fred Meyer’s with my daughter yesterday, and I swear at least five were following us, and it was embar- rassing and irritating, and we ended up not getting anything and just left…My daughter is 27. She has a good heart and doesn’t steal. She felt really embar- rassed,” Hibler said.
“I believe the private security guards are pushing boundaries,” Tina Drake said. “They are going outside of their jurisdiction and their training, especially pushing people away from places they can legally be. I was recently at Target, where I used to sell (Street Roots) because they are under new security. Now I cannot stand on the street corner and sell there anymore. I got told to leave the other day, leave the sidewalk. I feel they are overstepping because they are pushing people away from places they can legally be. She was kind, but she told me I had to leave the area. I’ve been there for quite a few years.”
Another vendor, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “Yesterday a friend and I had a conversation with a security guard outside Sisters of the Road. He was kind-hearted and said he wished he could help people instead of just carry out the law on private and public property. It just seemed like his heart was in the right place.”
Belinda Estermeyer and John Kadubec are also sup- portive. Belinda said the security guards are bascially “like hall monitors” in her apartment building. John Kadubec “never had a problem and is glad they are there. They keep everything in order,” he said.
Stephanie has had very different experiences. “We were resting at Fred Meyers,” she said. “We had only been there for 20 minutes, and he (a private security guard) said I was disturbing the other customers. We had a shopping cart with our stuff we’d bought in it, but it was under a table, nowhere near anyone. He told us to get out of the building and demanded right there by the front door that we had to take all our belongings out of the shopping cart in just a couple minutes and be off the property. He didn’t let me grab a garbage bag to put it in. He said it was loitering. “Another time we were at Jantzen Beach. They have armed security,” Stephanie said. “I was walk- ing down the sidewalk. I looked down for a second – I happened to be walking by a garbage can – and the security guard stopped me and said, ‘You can’t be doing that here.’ I said, ‘Doing what?’ He said looking for cigarettes and taking them out of the garbage. I said I wasn’t; I just happened to turn my head and happened to look down. He was demand- ing my ID and said I would be trespassed off the property. They said they could restrain me until the police got there. I said I was just someone walking on the sidewalk; I didn’t touch anything. He laughed at us, and we turned around and walked away.”
Vince Masielo said he’s had tough interactions with private security at Right 2 Dream Too, the city-sanc- tioned establishment for people experiencing homelessness, located near the Moda Center. “The Moda Center has its own securi- ty, and big venues bring more private security, and if they don’t know about the homeless village, they can act aggressive and domineering,” Masielo said. “Sometimes you get good, honest people. Sometimes you get jerks. I’ve never been into anything physical.” Others have and gotten hurt.
“There’s a relationship between home- less and police, and that’s not the same as between homeless and private secu- rity,” Masielo added. “People should know you don’t have to ever say your name. They have no right to anything the police can lawfully get from you. You have to know the difference. Don’t be alone. Know your rights. If they threaten to sweep or remove you, tell them to get the real police, someone who actually has real authority in the area.”
‘Sometimes you get good, honest people. Sometimes you get jerks.’
Sean Sheffield said he believes security guards are overstepping their bounds. “Their jurisdiction is only the property they are supposed to be on. If you are private security for an office build- ing, outside that door, that’s not your jurisdiction. I’ve had encounters with them telling me I can’t be on a public sidewalk. I say to call the cops and we’ll decide who’s right on this one.” Roger Cavitt sells Street Roots at Powell’s City of Books downtown.
“I’ve been on that side of the street for two years. Recently a guy started yelling at me—he initiates it—so this security guard walks over and tells me to move. I tell him I’m not moving because I am totally legal. We already measured it and everything. He called me a panhandler for selling the paper. He said he didn’t want me there. So I moved a block down. My attorney says just be quiet about it. I lost my spot. I was making a bunch of money. “I just notice what they do with homeless people. I see them chase them around. And they have a bias against black musicians; they say they are too loud, they have to leave. It’s the way they do it. They don’t do it with any respect. The white musicians play all day, whatever they want to do.”
This story originally appeared in Street Roots, the street newspaper in Portland, Oregon. Courtesy of StreetRoots/INSP. ngo.