Editor’s note: This story is one of three stories detailing how the state has often failed to oversee private security guards it licenses. The investigation was produced by The Frontier and our media partner, NewsOn6.
More than 100 security guards licensed by the state have been disciplined during the past two years for crimes, including 22 cases involving illegal use of firearms, an investigation by The Frontier has found.
When the state of Oklahoma granted those guards a license to carry firearms on the job, the state also granted them sweeping confidentiality about 15 years ago with exemptions to the state Open Records Act.
Unlike the records of dozens of professionals licensed by the state — including doctors, nurses, dentists, athletic trainers, alarm technicians and even asbestos inspectors — most records about private security guards are off limits to the public.
Or a list of private security companies employing guards.
Or even statistics on how many times the agency, known as CLEET, has waived requirements related to criminal backgrounds of security guard applicants.
CLEET can waive a state law prohibiting license approval for security guard applicants if they’ve been convicted of one of a dozen crimes in the past five years. The list includes “any offense involving moral turpitude, any offense involving a minor as a victim, any nonconsensual sex offense … any offense involving a firearm, or any other offense as prescribed by the Council.”
The phrase “any other offense” appears to allow CLEET to grant an armed private security license to applicants convicted of any crime in the past five years, no matter how serious.
When The Frontier asked CLEET’s general counsel, Gerald Konkler, for a list of applicants who received these criminal background waivers, he said that information isn’t public. The waivers involve licensure and not discipline and records related to licenses aren’t public.
What about the meeting minutes of CLEET’s governing council? Does the council vote to approve or reject requests for criminal background waivers?
“The Council does not vote on that,” Konkler replied in an email.
Since those records aren’t made public, we asked a question: How many criminal background waivers did CLEET grant in the past year?
“There’s no way to determine that without going through each and every application,” Konkler wrote.
So what if you just want to know whether the somewhat shady guy patrolling the parking lot of your apartment complex, office building or shopping center is licensed by the state?
CLEET says it will confirm whether someone is licensed as a guard if you know his or her name. It’s unclear what happens if the name is a common one. There are more than 8,000 licensed security guards in the state.
CLEET says it can’t provide licensure information, which could allow citizens to determine whether the guard is qualified for the license in the first place. The agency is only required by law to make records public involving disciplinary action against a security guard.
An investigation by The Frontier and our media partner, NewsOn6, shows the agency has disciplined more than 100 private security guards accused or convicted of crimes in the past two years. The actions involved guards who had been convicted of crimes including domestic abuse, sex offenses, child neglect, impersonating a police officer and drug crimes.
On average, the agency took no action against security guards until a year after the incident. In many cases, CLEET wasn’t aware of the convictions because guards didn’t inform the agency as the law requires.
Getting access to complete records of those actions is also difficult.
Some information about disciplinary actions involving security guards is attached to the CLEET meeting minutes, but only since 2013. The summary information contains names and actions but scant details about crimes involving security guards.
If you want copies of the actual disciplinary orders, you’d need to make an Open Records Act request. The records aren’t online.
For details on older disciplinary actions, you’d have to drive to Ada and ask officials at CLEET to allow you to look through records stored in dozens of boxes throughout the agency’s headquarters. (Labels on the boxes may not correspond with the records inside.)
CLEET is among many state agencies coping with years of repeated budget cuts. There’s no budget to scan and digitize boxes of old records.
“Many of the older records we weren’t able to enter digitally went into boxes,” said Steve Emmons, CLEET’s executive director. “We haven’t had the staffing for a number of years to keep all of that entered in the system. … We keep up with current records, but not the old.”
Emmons acknowledges the risk in this system of record keeping.
“You could have a situation where something would be missed because there is no way to pull it up digitally,” he said.