Corpus Christi's port replaces private security guards

Published 17 August 2007

Texas port had an idea: Save money by hiring contract security guards; trouble is, guards showed up drunk, slept on the job, and more; port now rethinks policy

Before 9/11, airlines did not think much about security. One example was the shoddy security at Logan airport in Boston, the origin of three of the hijacked planes on 9/11: The airlines using Logan hired a cut-rate security contractor who, in turn, hired unqualified people, many with criminal records, to man the check points at the airport. Why this walk down memory lane? Because recent events at the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas, show that some never learn — or learn when it is almost too late. The port authory hired contract security guards, but many of them showed up for work intoxicated and slept on the job. At a meeting Tuesday of the port commission, Chief Luther Kim asked for permission to replace about half of the port’s contracted security guards with twenty-one officers who would be employees of the port. Kim said guards who were port employees would not have divided loyalties, while the contracted guards owe allegiance to their private employer and are more likely to cover for one another for the transgressions he described. He also said high turnover among private security guards presents a problem for the port, which must spend time and money to train the guards for port duty. Commissioners approved the request unanimously.

The port typically has about sixty contract security guards from Corpus Christi-based Amtex Global Serviceson the payroll. Kim said incidents such as the ones he mentioned, and failure to follow established procedures, led to his request. Bob Lott, Amtex’s vice president and chief operating officer, confirmed that the incidents Kim mentioned occurred, but added that every company has personnel issues. “We did have one instance about the individual showing up to work under the influence and that individual was terminated,” Lott said. Kim wouldn’t say how many times these incidents had occurred. “One time is one too many,” Kim said. “It happens frequently enough that it’s a big concern. I think the problem is a small pool of applicants. By hiring our own guards, we will expand that pool.”

Private security guards must be licensed as such. Guards who work directly for the port do not need to be licensed as private security guards, which increases the pool of applicants to anyone interested who meets the requirements, Kim said. Commissioner Mike Carrell was surprised to hear such problems existed with the guards and had concerns that adding twenty-one people to the port’s benefits plan would raise costs significantly. Kim assured the commission that the long-term savings in contract pay and vehicle leases would exceed the plan increases.

If you are in the security business Amtex’s contact expires at the end of the year and Kim said he will take competitive bids for the 2008-2010 period. Lott said Amtex will submit a proposal.