ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Crime is on the rise in Albuquerque, and with it, the security industry.
Local and national security companies say they are shoring up their ranks to meet increasing demand from businesses and residents in Albuquerque.
“There is absolutely no doubt that the increase is due to the (rise in) crime,” said David Meurer, CEO of Armed Response Team. “In a nutshell, I can tell you that all (security companies in Albuquerque) are busy. People ask me how business is doing, and I say, ‘It’s good, but for all the wrong reasons.'”
According to an FBI report released in September, Albuquerque had 38,528 reported property crimes in 2016, an increase of 13.3 percent over the previous year. Violent crime spiked by a much larger amount, up 41.8 percent.
In the meantime, the Albuquerque Police Department has a staffing shortage, employing 800 officers. According to Mayor Richard Berry, the department should staff at least 1,000.
Meanwhile, the number of security guard licenses active in New Mexico has risen more than four-fold since 2012-13, according to the New Mexico Regulations and Licensing Department. The department estimates more than 50 security companies operate in the state.
Local and national companies operating here such as AKAL, Securitas, International Protective Services and Probus Security say they are expanding in Albuquerque, and new companies like Eagle Force Security have entered the market in the past year.
According to Aaron Jones, president and founder of International Protective Services, every sector – industrial, retail, office, event and residential – are demanding more security services.
The bottom line is that businesses around Albuquerque are trying to cope with a very tangible crime problem.
“We feel it’s necessary, almost mandatory, because the crew needs to feel safe at work,” said Larry Rainosek, owner of the Frontier restaurant on Central Avenue. “Back in the old days, we felt we could just call the police and they were our security. But they are overwhelmed now.”
The Frontier employs International Protective Services guards, who are armed. Rainosek said he feels Level Three officers – those licensed to carry firearms in their work – are better equipped to handle situations and that their superior training lowers the risk of liability. He said Level Three security costs more, but in order to do the same job, he might have to hire two Level One guards.
According to John Salazar, president of Probus Security, Level Three guards need to be paid at least $15 an hour and sometimes as much as $19 an hour. By comparison, a Level One guard costs Salazar roughly $10 an hour, depending on experience.
Frontier has employed security personnel in some form for the last 20 years, but the company hired International Protective Services roughly six years ago when it stopped being a 24-hour-a-day establishment and moved to a 5 a.m.-to-1 a.m. schedule. The hour change was a direct result of crime, Rainosek said.
The Frontier has a drive-by security service during the day and a guard present at all times from 6 p.m. to closing.
Developers and property management companies are also turning to security guards to help revitalize struggling properties.
Daskalos Development, which began revitalizing Four Hills Village Center at Central and Tramway roughly three years ago, quickly realized it would need to hire security personnel if it was going to bring the development back to life.
“When we first purchased (Four Hills Village) three years ago, security was not something that was on our mind,” said managing partner Peggy Daskalos. “But as we started doing construction, we realized we were in need of security.”
She said hiring security was not a reaction to any one incident, but a preventative step and a way of handling concern over the homeless population, which Daskalos said had taken over the center prior to the company’s purchase. The development company brought in two anchor tenants, Sprouts and Icon Cinema, which have separate security services.
Daskalos said the need for security has risen over the last two years. Her company uses security guards at other properties, and in one case, it has installed cameras that are monitored by a security company.
In New Mexico, all security guards are required to be licensed.
Those licenses, which fall under the private investigators license, are broken down into three levels: Level One, unarmed guards who are tasked with observing and reporting crime; Level Two, permitted to carry nonlethal devices such as chemical spray and batons; and Level Three, permitted to carry firearms.
According to Regulation and Licensing, overall active license numbers for security guards has increased from 475 in 2013-14 to 2,288 in 2016-17. Level One licenses, which are the easiest to obtain, increased the most, from 273 in 2013-14 to 1,600 in 2016-17.
There is some disagreement among the security providers in Albuquerque about which level of license is most appropriate.
John Salazar, president and CEO of Probus Security, a locally born security service now operating in six states, prefers to use Level One guards. Salazar is a longtime Albuquerque resident who has been in the security guard business since the mid-1980s.
He said he has “definitely increased” his hiring numbers over the last couple of years, but he still hires the same level of guards.
Salazar is cautious with his guards and tells clients to be proactive rather than reactive in preparing their security. He wants his guards to help keep clients safe, but at the same time, he says, he doesn’t want his employees to be in a situation that can be a potential disaster.
Safety isn’t Salazar’s only concern. Liability is also a major issue. In a situation in which shots are fired, said Salazar, any number of things can go wrong.
“You want an armed guard, you better know what you are playing with. And do you really need an armed guard? … You can end up with a real disaster. You got a problem, call APD. There isn’t a thing that APD can’t handle,” Salazar said.
Another local company, International Protective Services, is on the other end of the spectrum. The company hires almost exclusively Level Three armed guards.
Jones believes that in order to help protect clients, they need someone who can handle any problem.
Jones’ goal is to help the police do their job by supplementing local law enforcement. For Jones, a retired homicide detective who looks every bit the hardened lawman, security is about preparedness, not just presence.
“I use mostly Level Three (guards) because what’s the point of having a guard if he can’t do anything about a situation except watch it happen? We want to assist the APD and the sheriffs as much as we can,” said Jones.
Other companies have an array license levels.
Securitas, which operates in 53 countries as one of the largest security providers in the world, employs mostly Level One guards but has the personnel available to meet a variety of needs in almost any situation. According to a Securitas spokesperson, the company has seen a large “new user uptick over the last few years. There are some population changes, but it all comes back to a rise in crime.”
According to Securitas, the company has grown its presence in Albuquerque by one-third over the last several years.
The company said it wants to help supplement the police department by responding to nonviolent situations such as break-ins and believes that a private security force can make a big difference where police staff shortages are concerned.
Armed Response Team also views supplementing the police department as the company’s main function. Like many of the companies using Level Three guards, it hires retired police officers and ex-military personnel almost exclusively.
Armed Response Team provides clients with alarm systems and responds to calls and alarm signals. The idea, according to Meurer, is to relieve the APD of the need to respond to alarm calls that are most often false. However, Meurer said the company has seen a sharp rise in the percentage of alarms in Albuquerque that turn out to be legitimate.
“The percentages have really flipped in the last couple of years. And it’s not because we are (ten times) the size. We are encountering more and more actual intrusions,” he said.