Bill Named After Jersey City Police Officer Shot and Killed During Drug Store Robbery
(TRENTON) – Assembly Democratic legislation sponsored by Carmelo Garcia, Charles Mainor, Raj Mukherji, Jason O’Donnell and Shavonda Sumter to expand the scope of current law regulating armed security guards in New Jersey was approved Thursday by the General Assembly.
The bill (A-4105), entitled “Detective Melvin Vincent 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.
“Detective Melvin Vincent Santiago was just beginning his career in law enforcement. His shooting was a grave tragedy,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “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.”
“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,” Mainor (D-Hudson). “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.”
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 armed security guards employed by private companies.
Specifically under the bill, any person employed as an in-house security officer who is required to carry a firearm as part of his or her duties 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.
“It is very clear to us that current law needs to be changed to ensure better training of security officers for their jobs. Lives depend on these changes,” said Mukherji (D- Hudson). “Stronger training and requirements will help ensure tragedies such as this one are avoided in the future.”
“There must be increased cooperation and specific training for security guards on how to help law enforcement when they arrive on the scene,” said O’Donnell (D-Hudson). “Expanding current law to strengthen training and requirements will help to increase protection for officers and security professionals on the job.”
“The safety of our police officers, security guards and residents are on the line if we do not expand the law to require stricter training policies and requirements for security professionals,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Security guards must be able to efficiently protect their workplace, themselves and most importantly, secure the weapon they carry. Their competence in security duties will help save lives.”
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 armed, in-house security officers. An armed in-house security officer would be required to 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 certified security officer instructor who violates SORA’s provisions would be guilty, under the bill, 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 before the bill’s effective date to 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 Detective Melvin Vincent 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.”
The bill was approved 79-0 and now awaits further consideration by the Senate.