Illinois’ largest community policing provider trains private guards to respond to unstable situations. Officers used their training to manage civil unrest following George Floyd’s death

Civil unrest is not something all private security companies are trained to handle. Sadly, though, the events after George Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020, were predictable. Citizens would show their anger. Criminals would try to seize an advantage, and private guards would be their first line of defense. As Illinois’ largest community policing provider, AGB Investigative Services stands out among private security contractors for its security guard’s training to respond to unstable situations. Their officers, hired from the community and backed by 24/7 dispatch, put their training to use in the weeks that followed Floyd’s death.

Beyond its role as private security contractors to large retail chains like Walmart and small community merchants, AGB also provides physical security and mobile patrol services to Chicago business improvement districts, known as Special Service Areas. Officers immediately were placed on patrol around the clock to limit the threat of violence as well as secure buildings. The Special Response Team training prepared AGB to be one of three security services companies the City of Chicago selected to supplement police patrols in deterring looting.

Private guards do not rise to the occasion–they fall back on their training. Physical security can make a difference simply in how officers carry themselves in uniform. They can never truly control others. However, their required instruction at the nonprofit AGB Institute shows how communicating with respect makes others more willing to cooperate. Restraint supports the officer’s authority and puts retail customers at ease. We hire from the community and model behavior that treats neighbors with dignity.

AGB’s private guards also understand their boundaries. As with other private security contractors, we give unarmed guards standing rules to call for backup in uncertain situations. But beyond these post orders, we believe that security guards require a higher level of training so their response becomes second nature. To that end, introductory classes feature role-playing exercises in de-escalation techniques. A confrontational approach easily can draw a heated response. It takes self-awareness and discipline to not take things personally and avoid fanning the flames. With support from our own mobile patrols or 911, it’s easier to deal with passive resistance than active aggression.

Crowds formed spontaneously in the first days of unrest. Mobile or foot patrols could deter trespassing by their presence, but patrol officers also could rely on their training to watch, listen, and assess the threat. Communicating to our dispatcher and to the patrol supervisor, they had a better idea of what was happening around them. In the second weekend, we deployed 92 officers to channel marchers and to contain, divert or disperse opportunists who might hijack a peaceful protest or use the distraction as a cover for looting.

Training Leaders Through Knowledge and Influence 

Our special response team gets tactical training beyond what is required by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). Team members receive four weeks of unarmed training to qualify for a guard card, four weeks to qualify for firearms certification and eight weeks of advanced security training in conflict resolution, law, stress management, and other aspects beyond licensing requirements.

Quick-response team members are trained in the use of objectively reasonable, necessary, and proportional use of force, following the Chicago Police’s reformed model. They’re introduced to pepper spray by having it used on them to see how it feels—and if they still can detain someone having been sprayed.

As events reveal the abuse of police powers, it’s especially important to teach private guards the limits to use of force. The 4th Amendment provides for the security of all persons, and reserves for police the power to detain. The security officer is just a trained citizen, given more responsibility to defend property but only limited rights to defend herself. Guards must not engage in force except to prevent a forceable felony. Their better course is always to engage the police.

Our training, approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE), has been transformed in the wake of the coronavirus. The institute lays a foundation with online lessons and builds on this knowledge with small classes taught in our 16,000-square-foot training facility. Supervisors reinforce the instruction with guards at their posts. AGB also requires more frequent firearms training than the state requires.

The reason, established by founder John Griffin Jr., is that security officers are true first responders. In a troubled world, they need to be prepared for anything, from working alongside Chicago Police to leading by example in their community. After Floyd’s death, civil unrest was only one more test.

Dr. Johnny Tyler is AGB’s executive vice president of education and training.