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Garcia Introduces "Melvin Santiago Law," Bill Strengthens NJ Regulations Concerning Security Guards

Bill Named After Jersey City Police Officer Shot and Killed During Drug Store Robbery

(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia (D-Hudson) has recently introduced legislation that would expand the scope of current law regulating security guards in New Jersey.

The bill (A-4105), entitled “Melvin Santiago’s Law,” was named in honor of the 23 year old Jersey City rookie police officer tragically killed by a suspect who grabbed a gun from a Walgreen’s security guard and open-fired on Santiago in his police vehicle as he responded to the armed robbery.

“Melvin Santiago was just beginning his career in law enforcement. His shooting was a grave tragedy,” said Garcia. “Security guards are hired by businesses to deter potential criminal activity and protect property. They are the first on the scene and, often, the first line of communication with the police.”
Under the “Security Office Registration Act,” or SORA, security guards employed by security guard companies are strictly regulated by the Division of State Police. This bill extends SORA’s provisions to security guards employed by private companies.

Specifically under the bill, any person who is employed as an in-house security officer by a company that maintains a proprietary or in-house security function is required to register with the Superintendent of State Police and complete an education and training course. Under current law, only security officers who are employed by a “security officer company” that furnishes security services to other entities are required to register with the superintendent.

“To deter incidents like the one in Hudson from happening again, more education, training and stronger gun safety requirements are vital professional tools that will be necessary for security guards to have going forward,” Garcia added. “Expanding current law will strengthen requirements for security and help to ensure all guards are better prepared to handle any situation that arises while they are on duty.”

Hudson County PBA State Delegate Matt Stambuli said, “the passing of this law is crucial for the safety of all law enforcement officers, as well as the general public. Proper training and equipment would have, most certainly, prevented the death of Officer Santiago of the Jersey City Police Department. This law will also reduce the chances of similar violent acts from reoccurring in the future.”

Other requirements of SORA also would be extended to in-house security officers. An in-house security officer would be required to be 18 years of age or older. A person convicted o be 18 years of age or older. A person convicted of any of the following crimes or offenses would not be permitted to register as a security officer: (1) a crime of the first, second, third, or fourth degree; (2) an offense involving the unlawful use, possession or sale of a controlled dangerous substance as defined under the law; or (3) an offense where the issuance of a license would be contrary to the public interest, as determined by the superintendent.

A person who violates SORA’s provisions is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree ad subject to a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for a first offense and $2,500 for a subsequent offense. The violator’s registration also may be revoked or suspended. Registered in-house security officers also would be issued special identification cards, the illegal use of which would constitute a crime of the fourth degree.

The bill also requires a person employed as an in-house security officer and complete the education and training program within one year following the enactment of the bill. A company employing an in-house security officer in violation of SORA is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $10,000 for the first offense and not more than $20,000 for the second and subsequent offenses.

The bill also imposes additional requirements on all security officers under SORA: (1) Security officers will be required to renew their registrations and complete the refresher course every year; (2) Security guards will be required to wear standardized uniforms; and (3) Security guards will be required to carry their handguns in a level 3 or higher retention level holster.

The West District of the Jersey City Police Department said that “support for the Melvin Santiago Law runs deep throughout the law enforcement community” and applaud Assemblyman Garcia’s efforts to “implement changes in the private security industry that will ensure a safer environment for police officers and the citizens of New Jersey at large.”

Melvin Santiago’s aunt, Agueda Santiago, said on behalf of the Santiago family that, “I am aware and fully support the ‘Melvin Santiago Law'” and “ask that this bill be moved through the Legislature.”

The bill was referred to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.