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New Mexico's Private Security Watchdog

SECURITY IN THE American West has come a long way since the days of gunslingers. But it hasn’t come quite far enough in New Mexico, according to Robert Hamic, who is the president of the security firm Summit Security and Investigation, which operates in New Mexico and in other states.

Hamic is not satisfied with the state of security regulation or enforcement in New Mexico. To draw attention to the issue, he set up a Web log (blog), the “New Mexico Security Blog,” a year ago. Hamic uses the blog to post information about unlicensed security companies and other problems, such as guards doing drugs on the job.

Hamic also contends that many of the companies he has spotlighted are running illegal businesses in tandem with their security companies or are not buying proper insurance or paying competitive wages to their workers, who perhaps could not get hired elsewhere for various reasons, such as criminal history. He says he’s filed numerous complaints with the state’s Regulation and Licensing Division (RLD), but he has not seen any of those complaints adjudicated. RLD spokesperson Teala Kail disputes the extent of claims filed formally by Hamic but acknowledges that “his feedback has been extremely helpful” in a few cases. The head of the RLD told the Sante Fe Reporter that Hamic might be right about the epidemic of unlicensed security guards.

Hamic’s security blog has become popular, but it’s also earned him enemies who attack him anonymously online.

As popular as the blog is, Hamic doesn’t regard it as a success, because he says, “it certainly hasn’t motivated the state to do anything differently, which I thought it would have.”

Hamic has been encouraging state legislators to strengthen the laws that govern the licensing and regulating of companies providing security guard services in New Mexico. Some legislators agree that statutory changes are warranted.

The current law “needs more teeth,” says Rep. Bill Rehm, a former sheriff’s department captain who used to supervise Hamic.

Currently, notes Rehm, it’s only a petty misdemeanor to run an unlicensed security company. “It’s a joke,” he says, adding that companies view any current fines they might incur for operating without a license as a cost of doing business. Additionally, he and Hamic contend that there just aren’t enough RLD investigators to help enforce laws currently on the books.

Rehm sponsored a bill to address the issue. The proposed legislation would have created a separate fund to pay for more personnel and resources to help RLD regulate the private security industry. The bill as originally proposed would also have increased the punishments for noncompliance (such as making a second offense a felony).

Many of these measures were eliminated in committee, which caused Hamic to withdraw his public support of the legislation. Even the weaker version, however, did not pass before the state’s legislative session ended for 2009. Rehm says he must wait two years before reintroducing the bill.

Hamic has decided not to wait on the legislature anymore. He is now attempting to form the New Mexico Security Association, which he says would use grassroots efforts to promote law abiding and ethical companies and spread the word about unlicensed or unethical companies.

Hamic says he has interest from more than a thousand security professionals, and he says the main goal of the association would be to start a public awareness campaign through traditional mailings and e-mail. His objective is to have an organization that would have the kind of clout wielded by the Professional Private Investigators Association of Colorado, which has essentially become an independent regulator of the private investigator business in that state.

Janet Arnold-Jones, who helped work on the failed bill, thinks the association route may be one option for the industry. But she warns that the companies that are most interested in this (such as the smaller businesses) might find it difficult to come up with enough money to keep an association running.

Rehm says that his view is that industry regulation attempts should come from the state government, with public input. However, he thinks Hamic’s blog may be helpful in highlighting the overall cause. “If it’s something we need to fix, I think it’s important for us to draw attention to it.”