Bank of America takes no chances

Local branch of national bank hires an armed guard to keep an eye on Occupy Chico participants

Security guard Richard Cooper stands armed and ready to protect Bank of America

Security guard Richard Cooper stands armed and ready to protect Bank of America

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

Bank of America has hired an armed guard from a private security service to protect its downtown Chico branch at least partially in response to the Occupy Chico protest taking place across the street in the City Plaza. The guard, Richard Cooper, wears a holstered handgun on his leather belt, a gold badge and tucks his pants into laced-up high leather boots.

His shoulder badge reads: “G4S, Private Security.” Cooper, who lives in Sacramento, says the company is the largest security provider in the world.

According to its website, G4S was founded in Denmark in 1901 and has steadily spread around the world since. Just this year it was appointed the official security services provider for the London 2012 Olympics.

Cooper said he was hired, as he understands it, because of the close proximity of the occupiers, who at times have stood in front of the bank with protest signs, picketing it for what they see as being part of the many corporate and financial problems afflicting America. Cooper said he expects to be on the job for no more than a week or so.

Jeff Allen, the bank’s Chico center manager, said the decision to hire a guard was based on what has happened elsewhere and made by the bank’s corporate headquarters.

Allen said he didn’t expect any trouble and suggested the bank headquarters were just being cautious. Beyond that, he said, he couldn’t comment.

Bank of America has been the target of occupy protests across the nation including activity in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C. In Santa Cruz on Oct. 6, two protestors with signs had someone video-record them entering the bank to close out their accounts. The bank manager told them they could not close the accounts because they were acting as protestors, not customers. She deflected their objections and called a police officer. The protestors were escorted out of the bank.

Back in Chico, across the street from the bank on a warm weekday afternoon, a handful of protestors sat quietly on folding lawn chairs or at the park tables. A wooden sign standing at the corner of Fourth and Broadway announced that Nov. 5 is National Bank Transfer Day, an effort to get customers of large banks like BofA to transfer their accounts to smaller, locally owned banks or credit unions.

Cooper spends most of his duty standing in the parking lot behind the bank, near the ATMs and rear entrance. Occasionally he’ll walk to the corner of Fourth and Broadway to check out the occupiers’ encampment.

Cooper said as he understands it, the occupation is only a part of the reason for his armed presence and that he’d heard there had been some bank robberies in the area recently.

Cooper has had some contact with the occupiers.

“They said, ‘Ooh, they hired a guard,” he said, suggesting the remark was made with a streak of sarcasm.

“There was one older guy with a guitar,” Cooper said. “I think he was Hebrew and he tried to offer me a blessing.”

For the most part, he said, the occupiers have been pleasant and approachable. One of them, local political activist Quentin Colgan, said he talked with Cooper and joked that the protest was keeping the security guard employed.

“I told him, ‘I hope you appreciate the job I got for you,’” Colgan said.