Who's Guarding the Guardians?

Apparently, the Houston Police Department can never find a cop when it needs one.

At a roll call last month, HPD officers were told the department had contracted with a private security firm to guard areas of the central police complex near downtown from dusk to dawn, seven days a week. According to a circular from Chief Sam Nuchia, Atlanta-based Advance Security Inc. "will provide security guard protection" at the department's print stall, property room, central body shop and dart lot, where wrecked patrol cars and new vehicles awaiting radio installation are stored.

The announcement drew raspberries from officers embarrassed that the police department of Texas's largest city would need to hire an outside security company to protect its property. "The roll call sergeant said this was the most bizarre notice he has read in his career," says one patrolman. "All the officers are laughing about it, saying, well, there goes our pay raise."

The officer admits it's probably cheaper to hire Advance Security than it would be to assign HPD officers to watchman duty. But, he adds, "if they can afford to find [an HPD officer] to monitor the parking lot and write us little notes on our cars because we park in the wrong place, you can't tell me they can't find somebody to be responsible for security of the whole complex at night."

Doug Elder, president of the Houston Police Officers' Association, is a bit more judicious in his reaction. In fact, he warns carping officers to be careful what they wish for, because they just might get it.

"Embarrassment?" ponders Elder. "I can understand that. But I suspect that if those officers were taken off their assignments and placed guarding a building a couple of days a week, they would change their mind."

Speculation in the department is that Nuchia's move came in reaction to an incident last year in which batteries were stolen from patrol cars waiting to be outfitted with radios. The thefts reportedly left the chief rather steamed. One officer remembers, "Nuchia's asshole was so tight over that deal you could have stamped out cookies with it."

Meanwhile, Advance Security is trying to keep a low profile in the whole affair. The company, which ranks among the top ten security firms in the country in terms of sales, has had a contract with the City of Houston since December 1992. That three-year deal called for Advance to provide security at the city's three airports and at the police academy. But only recently, says Tom Esposito, director of Advance Security's support services, has the scope of his company's responsibility expanded to the central police complex.

Esposito admits that news of the new duties is good advertising for his company. And the irony of security guards guarding the Houston police is not entirely lost on him.

"Ironic?" laughs Esposito. "I guess that's the way I've seen it expressed. The police thought it was ironic. I won't venture a comment.


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