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Brinks or Blackwater: My Frightening Encounter With A Combat-Mode Guard & His Gun
by Linda Milazzo
For years since the United States invaded Iraq, I've witnessed countless photo and video images of innocent civilians - men, women, teens and children - being rudely and aggressively threatened by hired uniformed militants (mostly men), wielding guns. I've seen these images from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti, Palestine, and more. Whether they be armed American military threatening Iraqis, armed Israeli soldiers threatening Palestinians, or armed Ethiopian troops threatening Somalis, the images have always disturbed me. There's an inherent injustice to such blatant imbalance of power. An injustice I suffered recently myself.
The oddity here is that unlike those less fortunate innocents in war zones who faced the guns of hired aggressors, I was not in a war zone when I faced mine. I wasn't even in a high crime zone. I was in a gentle middle class suburb, where my aggressor, an armed Brinks, Inc. security guard, was in full combat-mode performing his non war-zone duty. My aggressor more typified the machismo of a Blackwater guard than the demeanor of community-minded Brinks, when he flailed his loaded gun at me, as though he'd done it often before. My armed Brinks aggressor was not merely disrespectful. He was downright hostile and dangerous. He treated me as his enemy and freely showed me his force.
Here's how it happened:
On November 6th, at approximately 12:45PM on a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, I walked through a parking lot en route to my neighborhood Albertsons market to pick up a prescription. I walked at my customary New York speed in a direct line to the market. I paid no mind to the Brinks armored truck to my right, as it waited alongside the store. The second I reached the store entrance, the uniformed Brinks guard emerged from the market with his gun outstretched, pointing in my direction. His face was turned away from his gun, leaving him unaware of my presence. Before I knew it, I'd walked right up to his gun, stopping inches before colliding. The suddenness of my stop thrust me slightly forward. I was so close to his gun that I saw its every groove - from its "sexy" color and shape - to its perfect fit in his hand. Its glimmer still glares in my mind.
Just then the guard turned and saw me and completely lost his cool. He flinched at my proximity just as I flinched at his. He became more aggressive despite my obvious fear. Instead of assessing that I was no threat and pulling back to allay my fear, he took the opposite tact. He became more aggressive and waved me off with his loaded gun, shaking it threateningly to move me away. I responded without hesitation, believing that if I hadn't, I might end up dead. In that one brief encounter, my entire 59 years of believing I was fearless evaporated in air. For the first time in my life, I experienced overwhelming, palpable fear and a vulnerability I'd never known.
I entered the market and went immediately to customer service to tell the Store Director what happened. I was clearly upset as I entered, as the store video would later show. Without going into further detail on what transpired in the store, let me just say that the Store Director at Albertsons couldn't care less. That part of my investigation is continuing, and has direct impact on why this article is being published today rather than closer to the date of the incident. Suffice it to say, Albertsons-Supervalu has steadily dropped the ball and is only fully coming on board now. Brinks, after all, is contracted by Albertsons. I'm Albertsons' customer - not Brinks'.
To be fair to this Brinks guard, and to those who work in armed security services, in my research for this article I've learned quite a bit about the mindset and dangers of being an armed guard. In fact, it's a highly dangerous profession, and in many ways, as underscored by a veteran LAPD officer with whom I spoke, more perilous than traditional law enforcement. In the realm of private security where guards are transporting items of value, attackers hit directly at them. This differs from traditional law enforcers who are commonly the pursuers and rarely the pursued. Thus Brinks guards and all private security who protect high value targets must be hyper-vigilant and aware of their surroundings at all times. In fact, numerous Brinks and other security guards have been killed and wounded on the job.
Nonetheless, as I've also learned in my research for this piece, Brinks guards have the option to unholster their weapons or to keep them in place as each situation demands. The guard who flailed his loaded firearm at me, unholstered it (as shown in the store video) and brandished it threateningly even though there was no imminent threat to his safety. His combat style over-zealous use of his weapon, his extreme edginess, and his failure to accurately gauge his surroundings, resulted in a near collision between me and his gun that could have easily ended my life.
Six weeks later, the investigation into this incident is by no means over. But to further postpone filing this report would be derelict on my part since any one of you, or your family, or your friends, could encounter a like situation where in a millisecond press of a finger, a combat-mode guard could extinguish you.
It's legal in California for a licensed private security guard to unholster his or her firearm if he or she perceives danger. Should the gun be unholstered, it must be pointed down. In my case, this gun was pointed toward me. At the time and date of my incident, no report of anything unusual in or around Albertsons was called in by this guard, or by his team, to the San Fernando headquarters where they're housed. Nor was anything out of the ordinary reported to the staff at the Albertsons before the guard left. The guard's clear view of the parking lot through the exit-way window which would have shown me approaching, along with the full view of the parking lot for the driver of the armored vehicle, indicated no impending danger. Yet this guard unnecessarily and dangerously withdrew his weapon and launched into full combat-mode. He entered the parking lot with a brandished loaded firearm and thus he endangered innocent civilians. I've said frequently since this incident occurred that I'm happy that civilian was me, and not a parent carrying a child, or a pregnant woman, or a small child running, or a fragile person with a cane. Any demographic is possible within the public square. But unlike most of those others, I have the wherewithal to scrutinize the situation and to attempt to illuminate the wrongs.
(Photo of Albertsons corner where I encountered the guard, showing the guard's visibility to the parking lot through the exit-way window. The Brinks truck was alongside the wall of the building).
Unlike Albertsons-Supervalu, Brinks, Inc. took this matter seriously from the beginning - at least after I circumvented its delaying bureaucracy and went to the top. Within 40 minutes of the incident, I was on the phone with Richard Brager, Brinks Pacific Region Vice President, who provided the following written response nearly a month after the incident happened. I've also had several conversations with the direct supervisor of the aggressive Brinks guard. To date, I don't know the identity of the guard, nor specific details about him. Getting that information will require intervention by the court. I'm debating this action. However, I'm hoping Brinks will take the necessary steps to correct this behavior and remove this guard from service if the need be. From the behavior I witnessed, in a non-threatening environment, his removal is warranted. Since this incident, my personal sources at this Albertsons tell me the guards have not removed their guns.
December 2, 2008
Ms. Linda Milazzo
Thank you for reporting your encounter with a Brink’s crew at an Albertson’s location serviced from our San Fernando facility. I want to first apologize for any concerns you may have had regarding the manner in which Brink’s conducts its business. I want to assure you that we acted immediately to carefully investigate your report. Our investigation included interviews, a surveillance video review, procedural review and a management visit to the location in question.
Brink’s position is, and has been, that our crews may carry their service weapon based on their individual judgment and threat assessment, but always consistent with state and local laws. Our expectation is that crews will act professionally at all times and will handle weapons with extreme care, consistent with our on-going firearms training.
I can assure you that we will reaffirm this position with our team in San Fernando as part of our follow-up into this matter with a goal of balancing our security responsibilities with an understanding of our perception and image with the general public.
Thank you again for your report.
Regional Vice President
I've stated previously in this article that the guard I encountered was in full combat-mode. Not surprisingly for the type of work it performs, Brinks is ranked #18 nationally in hiring former military. I support our former military and would like all returning vets to have good jobs. However, with the high number of vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I question whether jobs requiring firearms are preferable without prior mental health evaluation. Below is a copy of the requirements for an entry level job opening at the same San Fernando Valley Brinks office where this aggressor guard works. One can see from the ad that skill requirements are minimal and no psychological testing is mandated. According to a representative from that San Fernando office, this advertised driver/guard position is the first step before becoming a guard. That same representative also told me several guards in that office are currently in the military reserves and are rehired between deployments. This is admirable of Brinks, however, I would again emphasize the need to comprehensively evaluate all returnees prior to assigning them jobs with guns. The guard I encountered was clearly over the top for the calm low crime environment he was in. The guard I encountered was, in my estimation, at war.
Skills/Qualifications for an entry level Brinks Driver/Guard position:
Minimum qualifications include:
- Minimum of 21 years of age
- Able to pass a D.O.T. physical examination/drug screen
- Excellent driving history
- Able to obtain a Class-B D.O.T. Commercial Driver's License or other driver's license as required by local, state and federal regulations
- Able to lift 50 pounds
- Willing to work in an armed environment and able to qualify for a firearm permit
- History of working collaboratively with others
- Solid work history and credit record
- Strong ethics and integrity
Specific Job Duties:
- Maintain the safety, security and control of the armored vehicle at all times.
- Guard the Messenger during the actual delivery or pick up of valuables at a customer's location.
- Maintain radio communication with the Messenger and/or other vehicle crew and with dispatch personnel.
- Load and unload the armored vehicle.
- Complete appropriate driving/delivery documentation.
- Other duties as required.
As a supporter of our veterans, and without knowing specifically whether the aggressive Brinks guard I encountered is a veteran himself, I hesitated to make any military connections within this article. But considering that Brinks is ranked 18th nationwide in hiring former military, and considering that I was told by the San Fernando Brinks representative that there are many former military working there, I felt legitimized in making the analogy - recognizing that I am in no way asserting that my aggressor guard is himself a vet. I felt further justified in addressing potential military ties after a lengthy discussion with former State Department Diplomat and retired Army Colonel, Ann Wright. According to Colonel Wright, who has long been a champion for veterans' rights:
"It is imperative that our veterans are protected from situations that pose a danger to themselves and to others, which could include firearms related jobs."
According to Brinks Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Administration, Greg Hanno, published in bnet Business Network:
We seek members of the military for their skills, discipline, and confidence they bring to the company. Brink's is a natural choice for those with military experience. Our culture is defined by the same core values that define the military--integrity, honesty, respect and loyalty--and our job opportunities leverage the leadership, drive and skills often acquired through military service.
One can only hope that discipline as mentioned by Hanno - in particular self-discipline - is afforded significantly greater attention.
The Brinks Company was founded in 1859. In all likelihood, the majority of us have encountered Brinks guards routinely throughout our lives. I've seen Brinks as far back as I can remember and have never felt frightened - although I've made a concerted effort to steer clear of their path. But it wasn't until November 6th that I ever witnessed a guard's gun drawn in the performance of his job. For purposes of this article, I asked well over 100 people if they'd ever encountered a Brinks guard with his/her gun drawn. Only one person I questioned said yes - an LAPD officer stationed in the West Valley. In my calls to police divisions throughout Los Angeles - some in the most dangerous parts of the city - the police officers I spoke with, except for this one, all reported NEVER having seen a Brinks guard with his gun drawn. It does appear that the guard I encountered, who operated in the idyllic suburbs as though in the throes of war, was an anomaly. However, overly aggressive guards may become less an anomaly if untreated and undiagnosed veterans suffering from PTSD are hired for firearm use positions.
If you have ever encountered a Brinks or other private security guard in a non-threatening environment with his or her gun drawn, please state so in the comments - along with any details you are able to provide. I do suspect there are some who have witnessed this in more dangerous parts of the nation. If so, please indicate where.
As I mentioned earlier in this article, I believe that waiting 6 weeks after this incident to file this report was derelict on my part. As this nation moves further into financial decline, greater numbers of Americans will become more and more desperate. Crime is bound to increase. Armed guards, such as the one I encountered, will become even more edgy as REAL threat levels grow. In my suburban area of Los Angeles, where my gun encounter occurred, home foreclosures abound. Retail establishments are shutting down. Hard times are getting harder.
Over the past several years, Blackwater-style private security has flourished. Blackwater was in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also in New Orleans. With the incoming Obama administration, it is hoped that Blackwater will lose its stature and its contracts will lessen and lapse. Still the culture of the macho mercenary has grown. The Brinks guard I encountered exhibited that similar style bravado. We, as citizens, must work diligently to protect ourselves from abuse. I know I will. Run-ins with guns aren't that easy to forget. There's no place in our world for mercenary justice.
Authors note: A special thanks to my friends and colleagues, best selling author Vincent Bugliosi and OpedNews Managing Editor Cheryl Biren-Wright for their insight, support and collaboration on this article.