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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Stephens Inc. security force numbers 45

Posted By on Thu, Apr 5, 2012 at 12:36 PM

LOTS TO PROTECT: Stephens Inc., headquartered here, has a 45-man security force, records show. - WIKIPEDIA
  • Wikipedia
  • LOTS TO PROTECT: Stephens Inc., headquartered here, has a 45-man security force, records show.

LOTS TO PROTECT: Stephens Inc., headquartered here, has a 45-man security force, records show.
  • Wikipedia
  • LOTS TO PROTECT: Stephens Inc., headquartered here, has a 45-man security force, records show.
Still interested in the arrest of Surgeon General Joe Thompson by police investigating the non-crime of mouthing off to a security guard, I got some information today from the state agency that regulates private security guards about the Stephens Inc. security force.

It has registered 45 security agents, 42 of whom have met minimum training standards to carry a firearm. (State rules provide that private security force officers are allowed to carry weapons only on company premises.)

Private companies are allowed to establish security forces to protect property and employees. You'll recall that the Stephens employee, Jacob Farque, said he patrolled neighborhoods in which Stephens employees live, though Thompson has said he talked to Farque because he observed him sitting in a car at his curb using a computer. Thompson wondered if he was poaching on his home's wireless signal. Unpleasant words were exchanged and cops were called by Farque. Thompson was in his home on Ridgeway in Hillcrest when LRPD arrived, seeking an explanation of where Thompson got off sassing a private security guard. He was "taken down" and arrested when he refused to provide an ID in his home to a Little Rock officer, Chris Johannes, who has a lengthy record of takedowns and also eight complaints by the public about his use of excessive force.

Security guards must pass a criminal background check. Class A misdemeanors or felonies are disqualifiers. Stephens' employees might enjoy a measure of deference from Little Rock cops when a complaint like Farque's arises because the financial colossus has over the years hired law officers for private details. Private guards may not exercise law enforcement powers unless they are commissioned officers in another job.

Think about it: a 45-person security force averaging a modest $35,000 a year — to pick an arbitrary figure — is almost $1.6 million alone in wages, not counting significant payroll overhead and expenses. That's more than the vast majority of state law agencies, I'd guess. (Note correction: My original post omitted an important decimal point in that estimated pay figure.)

I hope Thompson defends himself vigorously on the charges, including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and attempting to influence a law officer (by asking him if he knew he worked for the governor). Many questions are to be answered.

For one thing, news reports have said Farque left the scene after his engagement with Thompson. My understanding of police procedure is that officers responding to the scene of a reported minor complaint like this — what was the crime? cussing? drinking a beer in one's home? — leave and make no further investigation. An officer can't make an arrest on trivial offenses that he hasn't witnessed. The stacked charges, remember, deal solely with Thompson's reaction to Johannes, who was present at Thompson's house in circumstances that deserve full police explanation. None of which is to suggest that Thompson wouldn't have been better off to 1) complain about Farque's suspicious presence in a call to police rather than confronting him; 2) produce an ID when one was requested, however offensive that request seemed under the circumstances to a man in his own home who'd neither committed nor been accused of anything resembling a crime, and 3) not tried to emphasize his importance. About that last: It's unflattering, no doubt, but is it really an attempt to influence an officer for Thompson to tell Johannes he'd regret arresting him on account of his exalted position?

The LRPD — facing a lawsuit over a poorly handled entry to an elderly man's apartment; Johannes' own shooting of men driving away from Park Plaza where he worked private security; the recent fatal shooting of a man in a no-knock raid that came up empty on hard drugs, and now this — could stand some public examination under oath.

I've made an FOI request, by the way, for the use of force report Johannes was required by department rules to file for taking Thompson to the ground to handcuff and arrest him. Nothing so far.

UPDATE: Here's the report in which Johannes explained his use of a takedown in arresting Thompson. It provides no insight into the crime Johannes thought he was investigating, though it adds a detail that Farque had claimed Thompson had repeatedly "brushed" against him during their encounter. Said Johannes' report of the climactic decision: "Given his disorderly conduct, hostile demeanor toward officers and refusal to comply with their lawful orders, Officer Johannes advised Thompson he was under arrest." The police didn't release supervisors' reports on the incident because they are viewed as personnel records of Johannes, unreleasable unless they were to form basis for a suspension or firing.

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