Board Chair Donald Jochem, a former FBI special agent and current attorney general investigator, calls the meeting to order. It’s an informal meeting—few motions, few proper votes.
A representative from a company called Diamond Group approaches the board and asks whether the company can skip the Department of Public Safety’s screening of its guards and instead provide the board with copies of background checks directly from the FBI.
PI Board members are warm to the idea, but counsel jumps in and tells them it would be illegal.
In another matter, AKAL Security’s regional director asks the board to mail approved guard licenses directly to the company and suggests he could then distribute them directly to the guards.
The board also is warm to this request but, again, the board’s lawyer chimes in that this, too, would be illegal—the statute states the cards belong to the guards.
A compromise emerges: The board administrator promises to fax copies to AKAL from now on. The company also begs for an expedited licensing process because of its contract for the state fair. The administrator promises AKAL will be the first company he calls when the new fingerprint scanning equipment is ready.
The board handles disciplinary measures during closed, private sessions. Hamic argues that, from what he’s seen during open sessions, the board may be more concerned with assisting certain well-behaved companies than going after the bad actors.
There are 181 active security company licenses in New Mexico, 6,814 active security guard licenses and another 704 pending, according to RLD online records. Unlicensed companies run rampant and unchecked, Hamic says.
Hamic’s crusade was kicked off in 2002, when he opened the Albuquerque phone book to check out the competition. He says more than half of the dozens listed were unlicensed. That number hasn’t changed. The 2008 Santa Fe phone book lists 12 companies and two of them—Associated Security Industries and Santa Fe Guard & Security—do not appear to have licenses, according to the RLD’s website (Associated Securities Industries, SFR later learned, is licensed; see note at the end of this story). The license for another company, American Security & Patrol Services, is listed as pending.
Superintendent O’Donnell acknowledges Hamic might be right about the epidemic of unlicensed security guards.
“I think that this industry in particular faces a real challenge from unlicensed activity,” O’Donnell says. “This industry has the potential to attract some people who might be willing to ignore the law occasionally. The board has cracked down on them. Have they been 100 percent successful at that? Well, no.”
The board currently has only two full-time staffers, which, along with underfunding, is a serious constraint, O’Donnell says.
Last year, the PI board reported $133,100 in fees, but only assessed a few thousand dollars in fines.
The Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting four cases on behalf of the board, according to Board Administrator Steve Herrera. The board also mails advisory letters to businesses that hire unlicensed security. But the board can only assign up to $1,000 in penalties.
“A short coming…under the new statutes is the penalty section,” Jochem tells SFR. “[The board] believes that increased sanctions are in order to address problems such as unlicensed activity.”
The RLD conducts compliance field investigations two or three times a month.
In other words, O’Donnell says, the department has limited resources and Hamic is relentless with his complaints.
“He just puts forth a huge volume of information and some of it is credible, some of it is not, but we don’t respond to all of it,” she says. “To an extent, Mr. Hamic is utilizing the board to vent his own personal competitive frustration. [If we answered all of them], we would be showing him preference in regulation, which is totally antithetical to what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Hamic counters that devoting resources to AKAL Security may show preference in regulation. AKAL is one of the nation’s largest providers of security to the federal government; in fiscal year 2009, the company won more than $178 million in contracts. AKAL also has contributed tens of thousands to Gov. Bill Richardson’s campaign committees; the governor appointed the company’s founder, Gurutej Khalsa, to the PI board.
Superintendent O’Donnell says it’s not problematic that Khalsa does not recuse himself from the decision making when it comes to AKAL.
“It actually strikes me as evidence of the really high degree of transparency of this board,” O’Donnell says. “Mr. Khalsa, who is powerful, if his employees have to come talk to the board about their problems in a public meeting, that suggests to me that he isn’t showing them any preference at all.”
According to RLD’s records, Khalsa’s term on the board expired June 30, 2008. RLD staff says this was an oversight and they are currently in the process of renewing his appointment. SFR was unable to reach Khalsa for comment.
This isn’t the only issue in which the board itself may be out of compliance with the law.
According to statute, the board must include two private investigators, one private patrol operator, a polygraph examiner and one member of the public.
Initially, RLD staff told SFR that Khalsa represents the private patrol operator. However, he currently does not hold a PPO license. Staff also say Board Member Mark Smith is one of the board’s private investigators, though he does not have a PI license on record.
After SFR pointed this out, RLD stated that Khalsa would apply for his PPO license this week.
In the meantime, the board in charge of licensing is itself operating without the proper licenses.